By Jennifer Loren, The Oklahoma Impact Team
UNDATED -- The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation received $36 million taxpayer dollars last year to provide investigative services for the state. One state lawmaker recently raised the question -- are taxpayers getting their money's worth? The agency immediately touted a very high rate for "clearing" homicides. But given the number of complaints we'd heard about the agency, we thought it was worth trying to verify that rate.
We first shared our findings with Claremore Police Chief Mickey Perry, who's also a member of the commission that oversees the OSBI.
"This is unacceptable," said Perry about the documents we showed him.
We presented him with all of the homicide case history reports the OSBI gave us to support the recent claim agency officials made at a press conference. They said the OSBI had an 89 percent homicide clearance rate over the last five years.
"That's why we brought up these statistics as a proof of performance to show you we're doing a good job," said Jessica Brown, the OSBI's spokesperson in April. "We're doing the best job of anyone in the state or the nation."
But we discovered those numbers are misleading. Clearing a homicide case does not mean it was actually solved. It means it was closed for one reason or another. We asked the OSBI to provide us with the documentation for each homicide they investigated since 2005 so we could figure out how many have actually been solved.
After months of waiting, we finally received a box of documents from the OSBI, but there was a substantial amount of paperwork missing. The files for almost 70 of the agency's 250 homicide cases were omitted.
"I can't tell you definitively why that was cleared," said the OSBI's chief legal counsel Jimmy Bunn Jr., pointing out the missing documents. "I wasn't particularly involved in that process so I don't know where they got all that information or from whom they got it."
Bunn said the OSBI relied on phone calls to come up with the homicide clearance rate. In April, agents called the investigator on each case for which they didn't have documents and asked if it was cleared or open.
We pressed the OSBI to release the missing documentation. After seven months, we finally received most of it, but not all. The OSBI won't release the remaining documents because they say they're confidential. Essentially the OSBI is asking us to take their word that their numbers add up.
But take a look at some of the cases the OSBI provided documentation for and counted as cleared:
When we originally asked the OSBI spokesperson, Jessica Brown, to explain the definition of a clearance rate she stated that some partial homicide investigations were included in that rate. That presents a problem because all partial investigations are considered cleared as soon as the task is completed. A partial investigation is just one task within a homicide case, like a sketch of a suspect or an interview.
Brown said in an April 15th e-mail, "in the numbers last week, those included partial homicide investigations, i.e. crime scene work, out of state requests for help, conduct interviews. Those cases we included in the 'cleared' category because we did what was asked of us."
But when we received the partial homicide documents, the numbers didn't add up. We asked Brown to clarify which partial cases were used in calculating the clearance rate and why. Brown told us she did not remember telling us any partial cases were used in the calculation. When we provided her with a copy of that e-mail, she responded in another e-mail, "It has been many months since I wrote the e-mail in question which makes it difficult for me to remember the context of our previous conversations about this matter."
It is still unclear if partial homicide cases were used in the calculation of OSBI's clearance rate.
But if the numbers are suspect, the files relied on to calculate them are worse. It turns out each OSBI office keeps track of their crimes in handwritten log books as they are called in. We found one crime logged as a "shoot'n." OSBI has no computer program to manage their cases.
"All I can say is it's very unprofessional. It's not acceptable at all," said OSBI commission member and Claremore Police Chief, Mickey Perry. "Even small town departments have a better system than this."
When we showed the documents to Perry, he said it was the first time he had ever been shown OSBI paperwork. He says the OSBI has always touted its high clearance rate to the commission, but he had no idea what exactly was behind the numbers.
"I wish now that I could say that I asked more questions and I take responsibility for that," Perry said. "I think that you're going to find that this commission is going to be more inquisitive, want more answers, want more accountability... and we've discussed this."
Perry says the public has a right to ask for more transparency from the OSBI and from now on he will fight for it. A new director just took over the OSBI yesterday. Stan Florence says he wants to give the clearance rate situation his full attention, and will grant us an interview in the near future. In the meantime he says the OSBI is testing out a new computer system.