State's criminal history database has holes

fingerprints

The state records used by law enforcement and private employers to track people with criminal records are only two-thirds complete, a Washington State Auditor’s Office says.

More exactly, the records for about one-third of the people arrested in 2012 did not make it into the Washington State Identification system, which is the master criminal history database that law officers and private employers use to check up on people, according to the auditor’s report released Monday. Local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors collect the information on arrested people and provide that to the central database operated by the Washington State Patrol.

The missing records involve almost 55,000 people named in some 81,000 cases. Roughly, 28,000 of those cases involve crimes — child molestation, domestic violence and harassment — that would disqualify people from many Washington Department of Social & Health Services activities. About 89 percent of the 81,000 missing cases were for gross misdemeanors, and the remaining 11 percent were for felonies, the report said.

The report pinpointed two main reasons for the missing records — lack of fingerprinting and a lapse in one leg in bureaucratic journey of the arrest records to the state patrol.

The fingerprinting shortfall frequently happens under what is called “cite and release.” Fingerprints are usually taken at a jail. But on many minor offenses, the officer won’t take a person to jail, but instead issues a notice to show up in court. Consequently, fingerprints are not taken. And fingerprinting sends the arrest information directly to the state criminal history database, the report said.

Also, fingerprints are sometimes forgotten when an arrested person goes first to a hospital rather than to a jail. And, at times, the quality of fingerprints taken at the jail is not good enough to be accepted by the state patrol, the report said.

Meanwhile, many courts do not enter “process control numbers” in their records that go the judicial databases. The number is needed to send information from the judicial databases to the patrol’s central database.

The auditor’s report recommends that fingerprinting be required for all gross misdemeanor arrests, and that all local-level law enforcement agencies and courts be required to use the process control numbers. The report also recommends that the state patrol systematically work with local law enforcement and courts to improve records procedures, and to double-check that all the required information is actually reaching the state’s criminal-history database.

In a Thursday letter to the auditor’s office, state patrol Chief John Batiste wrote that his agency has been working to fix the problems, and will continue to do so.

  

About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government. He can be followed on Twitter: @johnstang_8