Arizona Criminal Records Audit Finds Public Safety Potentially At Risk

Published: Tuesday, September 14, 2021 - 1:35pm

A new state audit finds incomplete criminal history records could potentially put public safety at risk. Arizona’s Department of Public Safety is required by state law to maintain a complete collection of criminal history offense and disposition records.

If someone’s arrested or charged with a felony offense or misdemeanors involving DUI, sexual offenses or domestic violence, their information should be in the central repository. Different agencies rely on the repository to make decisions about bail and plea bargains and run background checks for things like concealed weapon permits and foster care licenses.

The Arizona Auditor General’s Office reviewed 103 felony records from four law enforcement agencies and found 17 were not in the central repository. The audit says, “Four of the 17 felony offenses were for aggravated assault, including 1 aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and 2 aggravated assaults on a peace officer.”

The audit also found about 40% of felony records reviewed were missing dispositions, meaning there was no information about their final outcomes.

Disposition examples include: guilty, not guilty, not referred for prosecution, which is when the arresting agency takes no further action and not filed, which is when the prosecution decides it will not take further action on the offense.

In its response letter, DPS agreed to all 15 recommendations from the audit except one. In that case, auditors pointed out that DPS maintains thousands of misdemeanor offenses in the repository that is not expressly authorized by statute and are inconsistently reported by DPS and some other criminal justice agencies.

The audit said, “inconsistently including these offenses may inequitably impact licensing and employment decisions.”

DPS wrote, “Limiting the reporting requirements to the four mandatory reportable offenses will not accurately portray one’s criminal history and will have an adverse impact to public safety and the criminal justice system as a whole. There are numerous misdemeanor offenses which precludes an individual from obtaining a fingerprint clearance card license or employment with vulnerable populations. Arizona’s criminal justice system relies on the full range of offenses listed in the central repository for sentencing, charging and licensing decisions. Additionally, the Department will modify its practices to align with any future changes to the law(s).”