Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Victoria Police computer system failure lets parole violators commit murder

SEVEN parole violators charged with murder were still on the streets at the time of the killings because of a failure in the Victoria Police computer system. A secret Victoria Police report reveals the murders could have been prevented if police who dealt with the offenders over other matters had known they were on parole.

Senior police were warned 3 1/2 years ago their troubled LEAP computer system's failure to flag a person's parole status could cost lives.

Det-Supt Gerry Ryan, the senior crime department officer who received the latest damning report four months ago, said yesterday the computer issue was "in the process of being resolved". "It's currently in the process of happening. These things take time unfortunately," he said.

The report was written last December and recommended that "immediate priority" be given to fixing the problem. The report reveals 11 parolees were charged with murder between July 1, 2008, and November 17, 2010.

Seven of them had either been charged with other offences while on parole or behaved in a way likely to have led to their parole being cancelled - if police had known they were on parole at the time. But in each case police who dealt with them had no idea they were parolees and did not report them to the Parole Board. If the Parole Board cancels a freed prisoner's parole, an arrest warrant is issued.

The police report, marked "Protected" and written by Detective Acting Inspector Mark Newlan, warned the problem exposed Victoria Police to "legitimate criticism by the media and the broader community" and significant damage to the force's reputation.

"However, a far greatest (sic) risk is that through police inaction persons identified as having breached their parole are allowed to continue their patterns of offending, possibly going on to commit the most serious of crimes," he wrote.

Deputy Commissioner Sir Ken Jones said yesterday he was deeply concerned and had called for urgent advice. He said he would review each case to determine its circumstances. "In relation to LEAP flagging parole status, the technical work is now complete and the team is currently waiting on advice from Corrections around the legal aspects associated with the provision of this data to Victoria Police," Deputy Commissioner Jones said.

The report, obtained by the Herald Sun, also calls for better resourcing of a unit that was formed to locate parole-breakers and return them to jail.

It disclosed that an operation set up in mid-2008 to locate wanted criminals whose parole had been cancelled put 738 parole violators back behind bars in less than 2 1/2 years. But it warned the success of Operation ROPE (Repeat Offender Parole Enforcement) would be severely compromised if resourcing was not addressed.

Acting Insp Newlan said Operation ROPE needed renewed commitment of personnel, and recommended that the force's four regions be required each to provide one senior constable.

Det-Supt Ryan would not discuss staff numbers, telling the Herald Sun: "Operation ROPE is fully staffed to the level it needs to be and we don't have any issues."

A police source told the Herald Sun murders committed by parolees were "just the thin end of the wedge". "How many other major crimes - like rape, armed robbery, aggravated burglary and drug trafficking - are being committed by crooks who would already be back in jail if our people knew they were on parole?" the source said.

The parole debacle is the latest controversy for the LEAP database system, which the previous government said in 2005 would be scrapped and replaced, at a cost of $59 million.

Police said in March 2009 that the force's new records management system, LINK, would be progressively rolled out from late that year. In March 2010, they announced they were temporarily suspending the LINK rollout to address technical and cost problems. There has been speculation the new cost of the project could be closer to $85 million.

Acting Insp Newlan's report said the LEAP system "does not currently have the capacity to flag a person's parole status on the Master Name Summary or any other screen". "The consequence of LEAP not flagging a parole status is that it reduces the ability of police to take appropriate action in relation to breaches of parole," he said.


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