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Poulsbo told to tighten evidence procedures by auditors

POULSBO — The state Auditor’s Office found that $2,000 missing is from the Poulsbo Police Department’s Special Investigation Unit fund, used for drug investigations. The auditor released the fraud investigation report Feb. 28.

That’s in addition to the previous discoveries that a gold necklace and two handguns were missing from police evidence lockers.

In the report, auditors found that although the City Council voted to reduce the fund from $2,500 to $500 in 2009, there is no record of a deposit being made between the Police Department and the Finance Department.

“Although the transmittal had been initialed by two staff [members], no one at the Police Department could remember who was responsible for bringing the deposit to the Finance Department,” the audit states. “Without a receipt from the Finance Department, we [auditors] could not determine if the deposit was made or who was responsible for the loss.”

Finance Director Debbie Booher said the missing $2,000 came to the department’s attention when the council approved the ordinance, and she reported it to the auditor’s office.

In the past, the police would bring its cash for deposit from the station, formerly located on Hostmark Street, to the central cashier at City Hall. The Police Department said it transmitted the $2,000 before the ordinance was passed, sometime in 2008, but did not have a receipt. After an internal investigation, Booher said it was recorded as a loss and the Finance Department changed its process.

“There wasn’t a clear trail as to what had actually occurred with the money,” Mayor Becky Erickson said. “All those processes were revamped at that point.”

Booher added, “Anytime there’s a weakness, it’s [the auditor’s office] due diligence to come back ... to find if we’ve strengthened those lines up to avoid anything like that happening again.”

Finance now requires a receipt at the time of deposit, and there are no longer Police to Finance department cash transfers. Any deposits are made to Planning (permitting fees) or Parks and Recreation departments in their own receiving systems, which is transmitted to Finance daily. Municipal Court has its own system, and transmits its money to City Hall monthly.

Auditor’s spokeswoman Mindy Chambers said because the city changed its deposit practices in the midst of the audit, there will be no penalty. The auditors analyzed the Police Department’s cash-receipting practices during April and May 2011 and found them satisfactory.

The city acknowledged three misappropriations, one being the drug investigation fund and two concerning its evidence room procedures. The auditor conducted its fraud investigation report of the Police Department for the period of February 2008 to October 2011.

The city brought forth two problems from its evidence procedures: a missing gold necklace in 2009, and two missing handguns that were supposed to be destroyed in 2011, which led to the arrest of former police clerk Amanda Dixon. The city’s insurance carrier paid the owner of the missing necklace $1,075 for the loss. Dixon’s trial for the theft of two firearms begins March 20 at 9 a.m. in Superior Court.

The audit found the city’s evidence room gun destruction list was not reliable, and the Police Department did not maintain a permanent log of all items entered into the evidence room. And, as a new evidence custodian was in training when the necklace was entered into evidence, accountability could not be assigned.

“The ultimate solution to all this is the police moving into the building,” Erickson said. “My feeling is there was a lack of communication between the [police] department and the rest of city ... There’s better management control under one roof.

“When we became aware of the problem we took very, very precise steps,” she continued. “We physically moved the location of the police, gave them a new evidence lockup, new software, and we have changed our personnel.”

Plans were already in place to move the Police Department to City Hall due to financial reasons.

The city adopted a new software system to better track evidence. EvidenceOnQ was implemented when the Police Department moved into City Hall in November. According to Poulsbo Police policy, evidence is booked into the system with photographs, descriptions, serial numbers (where applicable) and any other identifying marks, and stored with a property tag. The software tracks the evidence from when the officer checks it in, to the police clerk records, to the state crime lab for testing or the prosecutor’s office for trial.

More than one person is supposed to sign the log sheet to ensure accountability and chain of evidence. Once the property is no longer needed as evidence, the evidence custodian attempts to return the property to its lawful owner, unless the property is unsafe or illegal. If property remains unclaimed for 60 days, one of three things happen: the property goes to public auction, is retained by the police, or is destroyed.

In the report, city officials said it is reviewing different facilities for disposal of their evidence. No weapons have been destroyed since the investigation began in August.

When there is a change in personnel who have access to the evidence room, Poulsbo police procedure requires a full inventory of all evidence must be done by independent verification. The report states the city conducted a full inventory of evidence when police moved into City Hall. The auditor’s remaining recommendations are to strengthen controls over the destruction of weapons, and develop clearer language on destruction forms to clarify what the signatures confirm.

“We have always had clean audits,” Erickson added. “This is an anomaly for us … and we took precise steps to cure it.”

 

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