25-year inventory triggers property management improvements
Facility achieves 100% accuracy in 2012 following 2010 currency theft
Surprise, AZ ( January 15, 2013 )...
A unique quarter-century review of Surprise Police Department Property and Evidence Facility records from 1986 through 2011 shows that although 95.8% of items can be accounted for during that time, improvements were required, Surprise Police Chief Michael Frazier said today.
“Obviously, we want 100% of property accounted for,” Frazier said. “We found some poor management and record keeping, and we responded aggressively.”
Frazier ordered the voluntary, unprecedented inventory review after the September 2010 discovery of $33,056 missing from the Property and Evidence Facility’s currency vault, which prompted Surprise to ask for an independent criminal investigation by Phoenix Police.
“The currency incident in 2010 made it clear we needed a floor-to-ceiling inventory and a complete review of our procedures,” said Frazier, who became chief of Surprise Police in February, 2011. “I am unaware of any property facility anywhere that has done an inventory going back 25 years, but we felt it was important to be extremely thorough.”
Thanks to revamped policies and procedures, added security, certification of personnel as Property Custodians and other improvements, Surprise had a 100% inventory accuracy rate in 2012. “We have a more secure facility and an improved, effective property management system today and it is our mission to keep it that way,” Frazier said.
Frazier also announced that a Maricopa County Attorney’s Office review of the Phoenix investigation of the missing currency has resulted in a decision not to prosecute based on no likelihood of conviction. A parallel administrative investigation by Surprise Police also found insufficient evidence to identify a responsible individual, Frazier announced.
More than 158,250 items were impounded during the review period from 1986 through 2011, said Commander Terry Young, who led the inventory project. Of the 6,572 (4.2%) items not accounted for, 79% are audio recordings, photographs, miscellaneous paperwork, video tape and latent fingerprint cards, Young said, and 18% are items such as bicycles, tools and clothing.
Young said no evidence was found that any prosecutions were hindered by unaccounted for items. All cases associated with the items were closed either by arrest, juvenile referral, lack of leads, a decision not to prosecute by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office or City of Surprise prosecutors, or are beyond the statute of limitations, he said.
Among unaccounted for items are weapons, drug items and currency. “The fact is, poor record keeping means 66 weapons we impounded over the past quarter century we are not able to account for today, and that is not acceptable,” Young said.
“However, there is no evidence that unaccounted for weapons, which include handguns and rifles, were illegally or improperly removed from police custody,” Young said. “It is probable they were destroyed, returned to their owner or otherwise properly disposed of, but insufficient or unavailable records frustrated our effort to verify that.”
The inventory showed $18,555.14 in currency associated with 43 incidents, and 72 drug-related items are also not accounted for, Young said. “For example, we have a paper bag with “$123.05” written on it. We assume that was associated with $123.05 in currency, but we don’t have any other record of why it was in custody or how it was disposed of,” he said.
The inventory process was complicated by the changing record-keeping systems that evolved during the 25-year span. Prior to 1991, records were handwritten and difficult to locate, Young said. From 1991 to 2003, the first automated records system, called LEADS, was in use. In 2003, the Department began using the Spillman records management system, which is still in use today.
A problem arose when software failure in the long-retired LEADS system made many records prior to 2003 unavailable. “Case records on homicides, sex crimes, aggravated assaults and all cases having property entered into the Arizona Criminal Justice Information System were transferred to Spillman in 2003,” Young said, “but all other cases remained in LEADS. When the system became unusable, those records became unobtainable.” The result is that records about many items are “locked up” in LEADS and cannot be reconciled; therefore, the items are considered “unaccounted for,” Young said.
“The organization and management of the facility has undergone significant change,” Frazier said. “During 2012, the Department’s property custodians were qualified as Certified Property and Evidence Custodians by the International Association for Property and Evidence and their training will be ongoing,” he added.
In addition, the Department has employed the internationally recognized quality management standard known as ISO 9001:2008, a set of requirements that has enhanced business operations in a wide variety of industries worldwide, he said. “The standard we are using will see us continually developing and improving the effectiveness of our property management system,” Frazier said.
Access to the facility has been upgraded to keycard only, and additional video cameras with longer storage times now constantly monitor critical areas. The perimeter fence securing the property and evidence yard is currently being enhanced and lighting upgrades have been installed to improve exterior illumination of the facility, Frazier said.
“These management and procedure improvements, as well as the physical upgrades to the Property and Evidence Facility, are a significant step forward in the maturing of the Department,” Frazier said, noting Surprise was a small farming community in 1986 and has more than tripled in population since 2000. “We are committed to continuous improvement in carrying out our mission of community partnership and public safety.”