JEFFERSON CITY — Failure to update criminal records in a timely fashion puts highway patrol troopers and other law enforcement officers in danger, according to a report released today by State Auditor Claire McCaskill.
At a news conference Thursday, McCaskill said the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Criminal Records and Identification Division, or CRID, is a year behind on updating criminal convictions records, and from one week to six weeks behind on data entry for arrest records, case dispositions and prosecutorial charges.
She said the backlog threatens law enforcement officers who lack the complete criminal histories they need to protect themselves when they pull over or encounter suspects in the field.
“The worry here is that law enforcement officers don’t have enough information on the spot to keep them safe,” McCaskill said. “If they pull someone over, they check to see if this is someone who has been arrested or been charged, and obviously that’s important information to know.”
Private individuals and businesses aren’t safe either, she said. Public, private and governmental entities request background checks for law enforcement, employment, licensure, adoption and personal purposes. Background checks are also required for those who seek concealed-weapons permits or who apply to become school bus drivers, teachers or foster parents.
While background checks requested at the service window are generally done in minutes, requests submitted manually are not processed for up to six weeks because of the backlog.
Highway patrol Capt. Chris Ricks said nothing can be done to prevent criminals from being hired as teachers or bus drivers unless the patrol has up-to-date criminal histories.
Although the patrol has dedicated more staff to data entry and background checks, Ricks said the problem is outdated equipment.
“It takes money to improve computer systems. We don’t have the money,” he said.
The auditor’s office also found that the patrol did not properly reallocate unused money from the State Highway Fund. In a 2002 study, the patrol estimated it spent 2 percent, or about $2.6 million, of the money it received from the highway fund for non-highway-related purposes. McCaskill said the legislature should funnel general revenue money to the patrol for those purposes.
“They do drug investigations, they do other kinds of investigations, and it’s not appropriate that those investigations be paid for with highway funds,” she said. “We suggest again in this audit that the legislature needs to fund those activities with general revenue money so all the highway money is in fact used in association with the highways.”