Audit of Fort Smith Police Department finds ‘actionable’ discrepancies in criminal investigations division

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 4,028 views 

Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark took office on Jan. 9 after being hired to replace former Chief Kevin Lindsey in late 2016. One of his first actions was to request an audit of the department from Tracey Shockley, internal auditor for the city of Fort Smith.

Shockley said the request was initially made in February but a still ongoing audit of the River Valley Sports Complex, which has since drawn the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was consuming much of her time. She began sifting through materials in July and targeted three areas — the narcotics and evidence subunits of the department’s criminal investigations division (CID) and its grant program.

On Wednesday (Oct. 4), Shockley presented a preliminary draft report to members of the internal audit committee — something she said she “usually doesn’t do” — but given the nature of discrepancies found in the report, the draft was warranted. Committee members, which include CPA and former ArcBest executive Lavon Morton; Ed Ralston of Ralston Industries; George Moschner of Baldor; Deana Infield of Beall-Barclay; and City Directors Andre Good, Keith Lau, Tracy Pennartz, and Mike Lorenz, were reluctant to discuss the report in detail due to personnel involvement. But what was revealed posed a “high risk” that required immediate attention.

Shockley explained one finding that involved discrepancies between department “buy sheets” and entries into a room where a safe and department equipment is kept.

“So what the process is: they receive information based on different ways. They take a buy sheet and they complete that buy sheet, and then they go talk to the supervisor about it. And if it’s approved, they then go and get the money out of the safe. We don’t have a camera above there. And so the safe is in an area where multiple people have access. One of my testing (items) was badge swipes compared to what the log was, because I had some discrepancies on the logs and buy sheets,” Shockley said, adding that the department has since installed a camera as a result of the findings.

Moschner asked Shockley if “anybody could go into this room?”

“It is supposed to only be three supervisors,” Shockley responded. “I can’t tell you that’s what happens. Because based upon the entries into that room, there are vests, and a number of assets they can check out of there. So other people do have access. Is there that possibility someone could have given the code to the safe to get money out?” Shockley trailed off.

After the meeting, a committee member, speaking to Talk Business & Politics on condition of anonymity, said the report contained “actionable items” though the source did not say whether that meant criminal or civil action. The committee member also did not confirm whether personnel named in the report were current or former employees.

The internal audit covers 2015 through 2017 year-to-date. During that time, there were several personnel changes within the department. When Chief Clark came aboard, he shifted some supervisors, said Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken in the public portion of the meeting. At the time, “Maj. Mark Hallum (was) in charge of the criminal investigation division (CID); Maj. Larry Ranells was over patrol; and Dean Pitts was support services. He (Clark) did that shift and put Maj. Pitts, before his retirement, over CID, and asked him to review the operations in order to make sure we had coverage on all seven days instead of the more limited coverage that had happened,” Geffken told committee members.

He continued: “Maj. Hallum was moved to patrol, which he had been a major over at one point, and Maj. Ranells was moved to support services, where he currently is.”

Geffken would not bite on releasing any further details regarding what was in the draft report when asked by Talk Business & Politics, but he did acknowledge the overall issue the findings stem from is not exclusive to one department. Geffken said management of the majority of departments in the city “was allowed to occur in prior administrations that were much more decentralized without providing the oversight or controls to make sure that proper policy or protocols were being followed.”

Moschner expressed concerns about how the audit came to be during the meeting, noting when a fresh department head usually comes in, they operate from previously established practices and procedures within that department, but Chief Clark “has come in and changed everything.”

“He’s changed things around in the way he’s doing things, and to some degree he is redefining the system. He’s taking the system that’s there and drastically changing it,” Moschner said, adding that a department head needs “to go find the problems in your own department and fix them. Do not believe that the internal auditor is going to come in here and find all the skeletons in your closet.”

Geffken responded that whether that’s true, “Frankly, it depends on the level of support that department head has within their department in order to find said issues.”

Committee member Morton added that in his experience there isn’t anything unusual about Clark’s request.

“It’s almost universal practice when leadership changes that either the new guy or his boss will go in and look at things because these are operational procedures,” Morton said, adding that “Some of these (discrepancies in the report) are financial issues in that they’re handling money. I think Tracey identified that needed quick attention.”

Clark’s first year in office has not been without controversy. The Civil Service Commission did not allow consideration of his request to hire supervisors from outside the department, opting instead to follow the established practice of promoting from within. Clark faces stiff opposition on that issue from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 39 as well, which consists of some current Fort Smith police officers who are leading a recall effort of City Directors who backed the proposal, starting with committee member and Ward 3 Director Lorenz.

For Director Pennartz, however, Clark is doing his job.

“It’s clear to me from the initial status report that I’m glad these high risk areas are being looked at. It appears they needed to be looked at and hadn’t been prior to Chief Clark’s tenure. I’m glad to hear that … and glad that there are already changes being made to procedures.”

The audit is ongoing, so there is no timetable on when it will be released to the public. Majors Hallum and Pitts retired from the department in May.