- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - A recent audit of Washington state’s criminal history database found numerous examples of missing records related to the outcomes of thousands of cases, the Washington state Auditor’s Office said in a report Monday.

A check of 2012 records in the Washington State Identification System (WASIS) found that a third of the records from WASIS entered into a separate judicial database about the final disposition of cases were missing or incomplete, according to the audit. The information is missing because either the person arrested was never fingerprinted or because a number assigned to every arrest with fingerprints was not included, the audit said.

Of the 81,100 case outcomes - related to more than 54,000 people - that were not in the system, 89 percent were for gross misdemeanors, with the remainder tied to felonies.

The system, which is used for criminal investigations and during charging and sentencing decisions, is also tapped into to do background checks for employment and volunteer positions.

The most common cases that had missing dispositions in the WASIS system were driving under the influence, third-degree theft and fourth-degree assault, the report said.

“If information in the state’s criminal history records database is incomplete, law enforcement may come to the wrong conclusions during investigations, a judge may inappropriately order a lesser sentence, or an employer may wrongly offer or deny someone employment,” the audit reads.

WASIS, which is maintained by the Washington State Patrol, is supposed to contain information not only of arrests, but the outcomes of a case, such as whether or not charges were filed or if there’s a court judgment. Law enforcement agencies, prosecuting attorneys and courts all are supposed to send information to it.

But, according to the audit, if fingerprints are not taken - which state law allows if offenders arrested for gross misdemeanors are not taken into custody - a unique number is not created for the arrest and the information is not sent to WASIS. Law enforcement agencies and prosecuting attorneys are responsible for sending information to the system when the case does not go to court; for the cases that do end up in court, the outcomes are entered into the Judicial Information System, which links up with WASIS. However, dispositions entered into that court database are sent electronically to WASIS only if that unique number is included, the audit noted.

While most of the missing cases were for misdemeanors, the audit noted that more than 4,000 involved felonies, including the 462 people arrested for murder, robbery, aggravated assault and rape who had missing records in the criminal database.

“Felony convictions can affect people’s voting rights, firearm privileges, and their ability to hold certain jobs,” the audit read. “Again if WASIS was the only source used to conduct the background check, these missing dispositions mean it is impossible to make fully informed decisions.”

The auditor’s office offered several recommendations for the state patrol to improve the criminal database, including seeking changes to state laws or administrative rules to require all people arrested for gross misdemeanors be fingerprinted and working with local law enforcement agencies and courts in to improve reporting. The audit notes that while the patrol oversees the database, it has no authority over the groups required to report the information.

In a written response, patrol Chief John Batiste and David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, wrote that they will work to continue to improve the system. They said the patrol has “experienced challenges with moving information through local, county, and state agency processes and systems.”

“We strongly believe that other law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and the courts share a responsibility for ensuring the accuracy and completeness of these records,” they wrote.

Batiste and Schumacher wrote that the patrol also will work with groups including the Administrative Office of the Courts and the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs on various efforts, including seeking possible legislative changes.

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