WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — An auditor assigned to investigate potential problems at the Wichita Police Department’s property and evidence facility says she found no missing items, and everything was stored appropriately, including sexual assault kits.
One year ago, City Manager Robert Layton expressed frustration that problems with property and evidence were not getting fixed quickly enough. He pointed to a 2021 external audit that found cash not being secured, older sexual assault kits not being kept at the correct temperature, and inadequate drug storage.
But on Thursday, the mayor, the police chief, and the city’s internal auditor said there is no reason to be concerned.
Kristina Rose is the internal auditor the city hired in August 2022. She said she spent almost the whole year reviewing the WPD property and evidence facility and procedures. On Thursday, she highlighted the key findings. She first spoke about the reports of the missing evidence and cash.
Rose said some of the evidence was incorrectly coded as missing, but the staff was able to locate it during the audit. She said some of the other missing evidence was from cases that had been dismissed, but the evidence was not correctly updated in the record system.
“That means that none of the items listed as missing in the internal audit were actually missing,” she said. “The deficiency was in the records management software.”
Rose also studied how items are stored, including biological evidence that needs to be kept at an appropriate temperature.
“Thanks to the audit, we now have the assurance that property and evidence is operating efficiently and appropriately, safeguarding and storing the items in its care,” she said.
Police Chief Joe Sullivan wanted to emphasize that the sexual assault kits were never at risk.
“That was a mistake that was made by the original auditor,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to know that that did not occur, that all of the special, specialty sexual assault kits were properly stored under correct conditions.”
But Sullivan said Rose’s audit found areas for improvement, such as waiting too long to purge past evidence that was overdue for destruction, auction, or return to owners. Because of her finding, the chief says the WPD purged over 30,000 pieces of evidence between October 2022 and February 2023.
“We also did a deep clean of the facility and took the opportunity to clean and organize the facility,” he said. “We are now fully staffed, and we have instituted annual inventories, and we are equipping the facility with updated security.”
Sullivan said that, most importantly, the WPD is resolving reporting issues with the record management system to ensure no future inconsistencies.
Rose said the WPD needed better documentation of purging evidence.
“What we had in place, it was OK,” she said. “It just wasn’t up to par to get us accredited, and that’s really what we’re moving towards for P&E is to get their facility accredited.”
She said the WPD has increased documentation, cash counts, and inventorying of evidence. It also has a more secure practice for handling the checking in and out of evidence.
Mayor Brandon Whipple said this would be the first time in Wichita’s history that it has accreditation for property and evidence.
“We’re in a really transformational moment when it comes to not just improving our practices and becoming the best police department in the entire state, but … taking advantage of this moment to ensure that we have this third party oversight of accreditation which is that, really, that seal of approval to show that we’re not just doing a job good enough, we’re doing it the best,” Whipple said.
The police chief said that protecting property and evidence is crucial for court cases all the way through the appeals process.
“That’s why the department is pursuing accreditation because it requires us to look at every single facet of our operation, every policy, every procedure to make sure that they are all consistent with best standards of the industry, best standards in policing, so it’s helpful to me as the new chief to make sure that we do a complete top-down review of the department,” Sullivan said.
He said the WPD now has a robot to help keep the property and evidence facility clean. The department plans to use other technology to ensure security from fire and other hazards.
Sullivan referred to Rose as an external auditor, even though the city hired her.
“This is exactly why you want an external auditor to come in and look at your operation, someone to come in with fresh eyes,” he said. “When you audit your own operation, you can tend to kind of assume certain things. So, I’m very grateful for the work that she’s done on this project and many other projects to come in and give me that advice and tell me what we need to do to make sure that we are consistent with best practices.”