Memphis Commercial Appeal, The Commercial Appeal, commercialappeal.com
BYLINE: Amos Maki
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The Memphis Police Department's property and evidence room functions at a "satisfactory" level, auditors said, but they noted a " significant deficiency" because employees — some unidentified — had the power to "delete" information from the electronic property log.
The audit, prepared by the city's internal audit team, found that overall operations at the property and evidence room "were satisfactory with room for improvement."
The audit found 10 instances where employees had "improper" access to delete items from the electronic audit trail, including two with generic names that couldn't be tied to certain employees."Nobody with a good control system would ever have the ability to access, delete or modify that," City Auditor Leon Pattman said Friday.
The property and evidence room contains items — money, drugs, weapons, clothes — the police seize and hold for trial, and stores items that are taken from people sent to jail.
Auditors also determined that nine user accounts could delete items from the property log, including a generic account for the Organized Crime Unit (OCU).
Auditors said the use of generic names was troubling because "there is no individual accountability for the use of that account." They said the delete function "allows an individual to perpetrate an irregularity and conceal it with no possible systematic means of detection."
The Police Department should change its logs to "read only," which means they can be seen but not changed, the audit said.
MPD's information technology office disagreed with the auditors' criticism, saying employees had to have access to the "delete" function to perform their duties, according to the audit.
City Council member Janis Fullilove, who last year called for an audit of OCU, said in a letter to Pattman the "delete" finding was "suspect."
"There were people who had the capability to delete records and now there is no way of knowing what was missing, whether it be guns, drugs and/or money," Fullilove said in the letter.
However, the auditors found that managers of the property and evidence room had other methods — including biometric scanning to access the vault, security cameras and bar code tracking of items — to "detect and prevent undesirable activity." The audit also found adequate supporting documentation for items that were disposed of.
"Overall, internal controls were satisfactory," auditors noted.
Councilman Lee Harris, chairman of the council's audit committee, said he wanted to hear a police response before judging the situation.
"I'm going to wait to hear what the Police Department says," Harris said.
This isn't the first time the property and evidence room has come under scrutiny.
In 2004, a former high-ranking employee of the evidence and property room was sentenced to 10 years in prison for taking more than $1 million and 150 kilograms of cocaine while he worked there. More than $2 million worth of cocaine, 560 pounds of marijuana, 66 guns and loads of cash were stolen between 2000 and 2003, a state audit found. Over a dozen other people were indicted in the scandal.
The current audit noted that "significant" improvements were made to the property and evidence system in 2005 and 2006.
This is the second major audit of an arm of MPD in the last year. Around May 2011, the city launched an audit of OCU, questioning the unit's use of drug funds. The audit also said a company run by OCU officers in Mississippi ran afoul of ethical boundaries and that MPD's Firearms Training Unit needed stricter controls for dispensing ammunition.
* Memphis Property and Evidence Room Audit
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International Association for Property and Evidence
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