By Adam Andrzejewski
While Baltimore Police Department is struggling to fight violent crime with hundreds of officers leaving the force, its forensic lab still doesn’t have the materials it needs to investigate crimes.
Convoluted policies and delayed response times left the police department without the lab products it needed to process crime evidence in 2022, according to a recent audit by the city’s comptroller. This stopped the department from analyzing evidence and presenting it in court in a timely manner, the report found.
Delays were so bad that the police had to borrow supplies from another city just so that it could continue to function.
The police department must clear its supply requests with multiple departments. This is meant to provide oversight, but the requests can take months to be approved. In one instance, a request for supplies took 10 months to be cleared, before being sent to another department which took four months to approve it, the report found. The police finally received the supplies 14 months after it needed them.
The Bureau of Procurement was primarily responsible for the issues, the audit states. In one case, the department took five months to tell the police they had filed a supplies request incorrectly in October 2021. The police finally received the supplies in June 2022 — just days before they would have lost the grant money being used to purchase those supplies, the audit found.
In February 2022, the police requested supplies that had to be certified by a national board. But the procurement department bought the supplies from a seller whose products were not certified, forcing the police to return the supplies and start over, the audit found.
The procurement department also changed its operating system in 2022 and canceled two existing supply requests and told the police to refile them in the new operating system, leading to a six-month delay, the report stated.
Supply requests should only take between seven and 90 days to fulfill, according to the BOP’s handbook.
The BOP said the issues were caused by staff turnover and other priorities, the report stated. The police said they escalated the issue to the head of the BOP and to the Mayor’s Office, but there are no set rules for escalating these problems, according to the report.
The city auditors recommended the BOP fill any vacant positions and consider hiring more staff to avoid delays. They also found that the BOP was not monitoring supply requests to see which ones had taken too long to fulfill.
The city auditors also suggested the police create ways to prioritize urgently needed materials if delays occur.
In its response to the audit, BOP agreed it needs to hire more staff, and plans to have an initial recruitment plan complete by April. It also agreed with other recommendations, including to prioritize critical police contracts for timely completion.
Summary: While Baltimore Police Department is struggling to fight violent crime with hundreds of police officers leaving the force, its forensic lab still doesn’t have the materials it needs to investigate crimes, a new audit found.
1-What exactly happened in the forensic lab?
An audit found that Baltimore’s procurement office is stopping police from doing their job. Police investigators request the supplies they need from the procurement office. It’s only supposed to take a few weeks to deliver the supplies. But the procurement policies are so complicated that police aren’t getting their supplies until months after they needed them, or sometimes even a year later. This means forensic investigators aren’t able to analyze things like DNA samples as quickly as they need to.
2-What’s causing these supply delays?
It’s a mix of a few things. The procurement office had a lot of staff turnover and a lot of requests to process. But it’s mostly because the system is just too bureaucratic.
There were instances where the police requested supplies, just to be told five months later that they had filed the request incorrectly. Then they had to refile it, wait another a few months, and by that point it’s almost a year after the supplies were needed. And there’s no process in place for police to escalate their concerns or put priority on the supplies that they urgently need.
There were also times when procurement staff bought the wrong supplies, or where they made the police redo existing requests on a new software – all kinds of delays.
3-Is anything being done to fix the issue?
The city audit office is recommending that procurement fill its vacant positions and consider bringing on additional staff to handle the workload. The auditors also said the BOP needs to create a method of prioritizing aging or urgent requests. Currently, they’re not monitoring which supplies are taking too long to deliver.