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McCaskill says delayed information puts officers in danger

February 17, 2005
By: Nicole Volhontseff
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY -The Missouri State Highway Patrol works to protect our highways. Now, a report from State Auditor Claire McCaskill says highway patrolers might find difficulty in protecting themselves.

In a press conference Thursday, McCaskill reported findings that the Criminal Records and Identification Division (CRID) of the Missouri State Highway Patrol is delayed in receiving vital criminal records. She says the largest danger is not posed to private individuals or businesses, but to highway patrol officers.

"The worry here is that law enforcement officers don't have enough information on the spot to keep them safe," McCaskill said.

The CRID is reporting a backlog of data entry for arrest records, prosecutorial charges and case dispositions of six weeks, one week and three weeks, respectively. They are also reporting a backlog of data entry for incarceration information of up to one year. In addition, the state's judicial system has not been reporting conviction information to the CRID in a timely manner. Highway patrol officers are consequently not receiving the complete criminal history information they need to properly protect themselves.

"If they pull someone over, they check to see if this is someone who has been arrested or been charged and obvoiusly that's important information to know if you're approaching someone as a law enforcement officer," McCaskill said.

But private individuals and businesses aren't safe either. Public, private and governmental entities request background checks for law enforcement, employment, licensure, adoption and personal purposes. The MSHP has extended background check requirements to include bus drivers, teachers, foster parents and people applying to carry concealed weapons. While background checks requested at the service window are generally done in minutes, requests submitted manually are not processed for up to six weeks due to the backlog.

"Somebody could slip by trying to get a teacher job," said Chris Ricks, director of the Public Information and Education Division of the MSHP. He says that nothing can be done to prevent criminals from being hired as teachers or bus drivers until the MSHP receives the criminal information.

Although the MSHP increased their number of employees to quicken the flow of information for the growing number of needed background checks, Ricks says the problem lies in their outdated equipment.

"It takes money to improve computer systems. We don't have the money," he said.

McCaskill's report also found that highway related funds not utilized were not properly reallocated. In a study from February 2002, the MSHP estimated that two percent, or approximately $2.6 million, of funding received from the State Highway Fund was expended for non-highway related purposes. McCaskill proposes that the legislature make an appropriation of general revenue to fund activities conducted by the highway patrol that are extraneous of the highways.

"They do drug investigations, they do other kinds of investigations and it's not appropriate that those investigations be paid for with highway funds," she said. "We suggest again in this audit that the legislature needs to fund those activities with general revenue money so all the highway money is in fact used in association with the highways."

In 2004, the MSHP requested reallocations of funding from highway funds to the state's General Revenue Fund. The total requested was $3.2 million. For the fiscal year 2005 budget however, only $661,000 was approved for reallocation.

Also included in the report was a finding that the MSHP did not acquire an independent audit of federal forfeiture activities and proceeds received in 2002 and 2003, a report that should be conducted annually in compliance with state law. Under federal forfeiture proceedings, courts may order disbursement of seized monies to the MSHP. Forfeited monies are procured when MSHP officers seize cash and property as evidence.