Macon police finish crime lab inventory, nothing missing

Macon police crime lab employees tallied 100 hours of overtime in taking inventory of each piece of evidence at the department’s facility on Houston Avenue.

“I told them I wanted them to compare paper to paper, paper to evidence, paper to computer,” said Police Chief Mike Burns. “I wanted it done right.”

The “hand audit” was performed following a review earlier this year by city Internal Auditor Stephanie Jones. Among other things, Jones found the police department had problems with record-keeping and controlling access to evidence and records.

Burns requested an audit of the department’s evidence procedures in December 2011. A review is requested every three years as part of the department’s national accreditation process. But Jones reported that due to some sketchy records, she was unable to perform a full-scale audit.

A new computerized records management system is set to be in place Sept. 1, replacing software that has crashed on multiple occasions and lost data, Burns said.

In performing the hand audit, officers discovered information on some paper files wasn’t in the computer system and had to be re-entered, he said.

No evidence was found to be missing, and no cases have been compromised, Burns said.

Some pieces of evidence had been filed incorrectly, in boxes adjacent to correct locations.

“As much evidence as we handle, I’d have been surprised if everything was where it was supposed to be,” Burns said.

Crime lab workers inventoried about 16,000 pieces of evidence dating back to 1979 that’s stored in 438 bins, police Lt. Mickey McCallum said in a memorandum to Burns.

After receiving Jones’ report, a new card-swipe system for employee access to the crime lab was ordered. It’s not yet been installed.

Burns said current access still requires an officer to swipe a key card, but the evidence room is locked by dead bolt after staff leaves for the day. Officers -- even those with key cards -- don’t have access to an evidence drop box until crime lab staff returns the next day.

Jones said there should be video cameras in the evidence repository. Police responded that there already was a camera in the evidence drop-off area, and that a new one has been installed inside the main evidence room.

Jones’ report also showed nearly $244,000 in cash was in the crime lab’s safe without being reported to the city finance department.

Cash amounts up to $1,000 now are put into locked evidence drop boxes. Amounts from $1,000 to $10,000 are placed in the safe by an officer and a lab technician. Amounts of $10,000 or more require the lab director to be present, according to an action plan written by police in response to Jones’ report.

The department’s response to Jones’ findings were the top subject of discussion at the Monday afternoon meeting of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Internal Affairs Director Keith Moffett said that on Aug. 10, interim Chief Administrative Officer Dale Walker put together a report which was given to all City Council members Monday.

The report is a distillation and slight update of Jones’ April 5 findings and the police department’s April 10 responses.

Two sections of the crime lab database have been merged, purged of “redundant, erroneous and corrupted records,” and the Microsoft Access software upgraded from 2000 to 2010, according to Walker’s report.

Now individual users are identified, not everyone can change data, and changes can be tracked, he wrote.

Asked Monday about the large amount of money that accumulated in the evidence storage area’s safe, Jones said money was turned in whenever the district attorney’s office allowed them to release it. Her review finding was that the city Finance Department needed to always be aware of the amount of money in the safe, whether it had been released or not; and that the city needs to regularly ask if money can be released.

In other business, the committee:

Discussed but did not act on a long-standing proposal from Chairman Virgil Watkins to make the mayor’s office the lead agency on gang-prevention efforts. A youth coordinator job is being advertised now, Moffett said. Watkins said he sought an update rather than a vote on his proposal; and that he would accept a suggestion from Councilman Henry Gibson to keep that job within the police department rather than the mayor’s office.

Held an hourlong closed session to discuss a Macon police officer who has apparently garnered 11 complaints in the past year or so, with nine of the complaints coming from the general public. The committee adjourned without further discussion.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.