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Chesapeake audit finds problems with police evidence

The Virginian-Pilot,
BYLINE: Jeff Sheler, The Virginian-Pilot

Chesapeake, VA

CHESAPEAKE - A city audit of the Chesapeake Police Department found deficiencies in how it stores evidence, drugs and weapons seized during crimes.

Lack of security cameras and door alarms in the property and evidence rooms, and an unlocked service window at the facility, leave those materials susceptible to theft, according to a report presented to the City Council last week.

Unless the problems are remedied, the report said, “the risk exists” that property and evidence “could be misappropriated without detection for an extended period of time” and “employee safety could be at risk.”

City Auditor Jay Poole’s findings also noted an increase in police-vehicle accidents last year and a failure to require officers involved in crashes to be tested for drugs and alcohol.

Other problems detected in the performance audit, which covered the year ending June 30, include large numbers of workers’ compensation claims and a lack of physical conditioning requirements.

Police Chief Kelvin Wright said some of the findings are being addressed but questioned the validity of others.

“The auditor is coming from a different perspective than the law-enforcement standard,” Wright said in an interview Monday. “He’s coming from ‘could’ and ‘what if.’ He’s coming from basically a banker’s standpoint.”

Wright said a recent assessment of his department by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies “had no issue with our property and evidence unit.”

“By no means are we saying he’s wrong,” Wright said of the auditor. “We’re just saying we disagree.”

One of the lengthiest findings related to security of the department’s property and evidence unit.

The report said “assets of the unit were accessible to numerous employees.” Five had the combination to the cash/jewelry vault, nine had card key access to the gun vault, and all 14 had card key access to the unit’s main entrance.

One employee who was reassigned to another unit did not have his access revoked, the report said.

Combinations to the gun and cash/jewelry vaults had not been changed “in many years” and the changes were not documented. Card keys were not required to access the cash/jewelry and drug vaults so there was no electronic record of persons accessing them.

The audit also found no surveillance cameras in the unit and no alarms at the main entrance or the three vaults.

It noted that a “large customer service window” in the unit “remained open at all times and, when no one was in the office, a customer could climb through it.”

Wright said surveillance cameras are on order and will soon be installed at the property and evidence unit, combinations on the vaults will be changed, and a second person will be required to be present when the vaults are accessed.

The auditor also found the number of crashes involving police cars increased from 67 in 2012 to 82 last year. Wrecks in which officers were at fault went from 33 to 52.

In none of those incidents were officers required to take drug or alcohol tests because the city’s substance abuse policy “exempted police officers from testing requirements,” the auditor said. That should be changed to include police, he said.

Wright said his department is weighing a policy that would require tests “if an accident reaches a certain threshold … but not for just the run-of-the mill minor accidents, or accidents where an officer is not at fault or where nothing raises the suspicion that the officer is impaired.”

Virginia Beach requires its officers to submit to tests when they are involved in accidents that are fatal or result in injuries or when citations are issued involving city vehicles, according to Poole’s report.

The audit also found the Police Department accounted for nearly $1.7 million, or 27 percent, of the city’s $6.2 million in workers’ compensation claims.

Sprains and strains were the most common injuries, which the auditor suggested was connected to the lack of a mandatory fitness and wellness program in the department.

Wright said the department is considering an incentive program to encourage physical fitness.

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