City boss: Fort Smith Police audit more about procedural discrepancies than criminal activity

by Aric Mitchell (amitchell@talkbusiness.net) 576 views 

Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken dismissed the existence of criminal activity in the city’s internal audit of the police department. The audit — still ongoing, which reportedly found procedural discrepancies and mishandling of funds in the department’s narcotics division — was requested by Police Chief Nathaniel Clark upon his arrival in January 2017.

When asked by Talk Business & Politics after an audit commission meeting on Tuesday (June 26) whether any criminal revelations were forthcoming, Geffken said, “No, we see nothing at this time.”

“What this is again: no one is pointing fingers. What we’re doing (with the audit) is saying, ‘That square is a square. However, instead of it being squared off on the corners, people are rounding corners. They need to be square. Some of you square up and some of you don’t.’”

When news broke last October of the audit, an audit committee member, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Talk Business & Politics there were “actionable” issues in the preliminary draft report. Findings in the narcotics unit revealed lax procedures on the use of cash resources and safe access, as well as manual discrepancies in related record-keeping.

On Tuesday, Geffken said, “We’re talking maybe $100 (discrepancies) or so” and said errors were more along the lines of “human nature” in that people have a tendency to say, “‘Look, if I can go from here to here, why do I need to take an extra step? When you’re down at 141 out of 164 (sworn) officers, people are going to try to do their best by doing the minimum. Police officers in general will always want to be doing their jobs, and paperwork is not what they’re trained to do. They don’t always want to do it, but they know they have to do it, and that’s why we have checks and balances. And they get it. It’s not about them. We’re not pointing a finger at them and saying, ‘Hey, here’s a process that needs to be fixed.’ They’ve picked up the process, and they’ve been making changes on their own, which is wonderful.”

When asked if most of the discrepancies were “pre-Chief Clark,” Geffken confirmed they were. He also emphasized the importance of having set procedures and controls in place citywide.

“We have a lot of new directors, and we’re working with them to say, ‘Here are our goals and this is what we want to do. We want to be ethical, reasonable, customer service-oriented, transparent. We’re here to work for the citizens of the city of Fort Smith, and it’s our job to always turn over those rocks.”

Also Tuesday, the audit commission reviewed BKD’s findings on the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), but copies were in draft and not yet available for review. Fort Smith Finance Director Jennifer Walker told Talk Business & Politics now that the committee has reviewed findings, the document should be posted to the city’s website on Wednesday (June 27).

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