Law enforcement agencies, potential employers and others who need access to criminal records aren't getting accurate information from the state Bureau of Criminal Identification, according to Auditor Tom Allen.
"I believe this is one of the more critical issues facing our state Legislature when they convene in January," Allen said after releasing a 10-page audit sought by the bureau and the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice."One of my greatest fears is that the state may incur significant liability to those who may be harmed by the incompleteness and inaccuracy of the criminal history system we are required by law to maintain," Allen said.
The audit was requested to meet standards set by the U.S. Department of Justice for a $375,000 grant to help resolve the problems, according to commission officials.
The audit found many problems in the bureau's criminal history system and made more than a dozen recommendations for improving the record-keeping process.
"Because of the weaknesses in the system," the audit stated, "we could not statistically quantify our results. However, from our test work, it is possible to conclude that the criminal history system is substantially incomplete."
Approximately half of all cases in the courts system are not included in the criminal history system, according to the audit. That problem is being made worse because the bureau has not received dispositions of cases from the court system in the past two years.
Even when the bureau does receive disposition information, at least half of it won't get recorded in the criminal history system because of missing reference numbers.
"Therefore, the criminal history system is not a valid and complete history of criminal information, and users should not rely on it for such information," the audit states.
Among the recommendations made in the audit are rewriting the criminal history system, noting that most agencies that collect criminal data "place a low priority on this system."
Commission officials stated in the audit that a project to improve the system will begin in December if the state gets a federal grant.
They also pointed out that there is no true line of authority that designates who is responsible for the accuracy of the system and that the commission is only a forum for developing coordination and cooperation among participants.