Officials unclear on disciplinary action from Fort Smith police audit

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 1,344 views 

The ongoing internal audit of the Fort Smith Police Department (FSPD) initiated by Police Chief Nathaniel Clark shortly after he took the job in January 2017 continues with no hard completion date. Even so, according to Internal Auditor Tracey Shockley, it has led to beneficial procedural changes, particularly in the narcotics unit, where Shockley found accountability concerns she presented to the audit advisory committee last October.

The narcotics unit had lax procedures on the use of cash resources and safe access, as well as manual discrepancies in related record-keeping. Since the audit findings were presented on Oct. 4, Shockley said the department had moved the money counter next to the safe, installed a camera, “so when they are going and requesting a buy, they will go complete the log, spread the money out for the camera and the camera captures it,” Shockley said.

Also, the department only allows the Lieutenant, Captain, and Major “badge access” to the room.

“Those are the only ones that will badge in. They also will take the report of the badge swipes once a month and maintain those into a folder so that if there are any discrepancies, they can go and look at the badge swipes, look at the camera, and be able to see what happened during that time,” Shockley said.

The Major and Captain will perform weekly counts to ensure the log, money, and other safe contents are properly accounted for, sign off, and complete the necessary forms, which have moved to an electronic system. The department also is looking at software to aid in the record-keeping that will interface with the city’s new $5 million Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) program.

The Major and Captain will now access the forms with approval from the supervising Sergeant, and take the forms to the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant “is the one who goes to the safe. The Captain is only the backup,” Shockley said, adding that the Sergeant will not get into the safe “because he’s the only person that enters (the form) into the system.” This creates a needed “segregation of duties” and multiple accountability points to catch discrepancies closely to when they occur instead of long after the fact.

As for the department’s past issues, Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken told Talk Business & Politics they were largely of policy and procedure.

“When you do an audit, you then say, ‘Was something human error or lack of following controls?,’ which is partially honest and partially, well, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it,’ or ‘Am I being dishonest and going forth and doing this for some dishonest, illegal reason?’ What Tracey has found resides solely over here (on the human error side).”

Geffken continued: “For x number of years, however many, it was, ‘Well, we’ve always done it this way, and I trust these people with my life,’ so it was allowed to happen. So now we bring in a new Police Chief, you have a new City Administrator, you have a relatively still new Internal Auditor, and we’re all coming together saying, ‘That’s all well and good, but there are reasons why we have policy and procedure.'”

And one of the most important reasons, for At-Large Director and audit committee member Tracy Pennartz, is “also to protect the officers involved, so their integrity is not questioned.”

“That, to me, is just as important. It’s as much protecting their integrity as it is tracking the money,” Pennartz said.

When news first broke of the discrepancies in October, one of the audit committee members, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Talk Business & Politics there were “actionable” issues in Shockley’s preliminary draft audit.

When asked if those “actionable” items were felonious in nature and if there would be disciplinary actions forthcoming, Geffken would only say, “If there is anything in the detail, that will be something Tracey and I will discuss.” Asked if those findings would ever be made public, Geffken said, “When it comes to whether will it be public, we’ve gotten the opinion of the (Arkansas) Attorney General on when we should and should not release it because we follow the FOIA rules.”

“Those times we have been asked for the results of disciplinary actions, we have been told that it is, ‘Yes.’ But there are times when we still feel it is part of the evaluation process, and hence not releasable. But we do ask for that opinion,” Geffken said.

To clarify, Talk Business & Politics also asked if any such disciplinary action were forthcoming, would it be after the audit? Geffken said, “Absolutely,” but deferred to Shockley on a completion date. Shockley said the narcotics component of her audit would be finished before the end of 2018, “but I’m going to have to be on their (the police department’s) time.”

“They only have certain people who can get in and access certain things for us. They have other duties so I have to rely on their schedule, and that’s why it’s taking so long,” she said.