Criminal history backlog more than 800,000 cases
June 19, 2014
Nevada’s criminal information repository has a backlog of more than 800,000 criminal cases that haven’t been entered into the system.
According to Julie Butler, head of the General Services Division, some of those cases are 20-plus years old because most of Nevada’s district courts, prosecutors and law enforcement weren’t sending the case information to the repository despite statutes requiring them to do so.
That means thousands of criminal histories are not available to law enforcement, prosecutors and judges when they make decisions on what charges a defendant should face and what penalty he or she should get.
“We’ve known for a very long time the records are inaccurate, incomplete and untimely,” she said.
Jim Wright, director of the Department of Public Safety, referred to it as a critical issue that can’t be fixed with the existing repository staff.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Brett Kandt said a real world example of the potential effect would be the lack of information on prior offenses in a domestic violence case.
“For years now the state has led the nation in the incidence of women killed by men,” Kandt said.
Kandt said when prosecutors review a case, “invariably we find there were numerous prior arrests of that perpetrator.”
“If a disposition doesn’t make it into the system, that individual is free rather than serving, perhaps, a felony prison sentence,” he said. “And that victim might still be alive.”
Along with those types of cases, Butler said numerous cases involving persons who have been adjudicated ineligible to have access to firearms for mental health reasons aren’t yet in the system.
She said there was sharp criticism over recent case where a Reno police officer sold a weapon to a mentally ill person. But she said that person probably could have bought the weapon from a gun store anyway because it’s unlikely the case was entered in the system.
“I guess, wow is all I can say,” said IFC Chairman Sen. Debbie Smith, D-Sparks. “It just affects so much of our daily lives.”
The Nevada Supreme Court ordered judges to start reporting last year after it was discovered less than a third of judges were sending case disposition information to the repository. Butler said about two-thirds of courts are now doing so but there’s no way her existing staff can handle the workload.
Butler said she needs a significant increase in staffing to handle the backlog. The Interim Finance Committee approved for $854,578 from reserves to hire 10 permanent staff and another 10 contract staff.
In addition she said the division has applied for a federal grant from the Bureau of Justice Statistics that will pay for another 10 temporary staff.
Even with that added 30 staff members, she said it will take at least four years to erase the backlog.
The reason so many staff are needed, she said, is many of those cases will have to be researched manually since they date to the days when the records were on paper and before automatic fingerprint matching.
“My staff has to go back and see if they can find the fingerprints and match it up manually,” Butler said. “It’s very time consuming.”