IG Report on Court Martial Conviction Reporting Displays Depressing Response


U.S. Army CID photo

On Monday, the Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General released its final report on how well the services have done in reporting court martial convictions to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information System. Such reporting is meant to ensure that a civilian record for service members convicted of serious crimes survives past their separation from service. A failure to report such information allowed former airman Devin Kelley, convicted of assaulting his wife and infant child, to purchase the firearms with which he murdered 26 church-goers and wounded another 20 in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

At the time, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) said he was ““concerned that the failure to properly report domestic violence convictions may be a systemic issue.” The IG’s report isn’t all bad news, but it does show that Thornberry’s fears were founded.

What must be reported, and what actually was?

In the two-year period between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016, there were 2,502 court martial convictions for offenses which required military law enforcement organizations to submit the offender’s fingerprint card and the final disposition of the case to individual databases in the CJIS. Offenses for which this action is required are clearly listed in DoD Instruction 5505.11. These offenses range from accessory after the fact to rape and murder.

Of the 2,502 convictions requiring reporting to the FBI,the military LEOs submitted fingerprint cards in only 1,909 (76 percent) of the cases, and submitted final disposition reports in only 1,722 (69 percent) of the cases. That means that in a two-year period, there are 780 individuals who are prohibited by law from owning a firearm, but who, like Devin Kelley, would nonetheless pass a background check if they tried to purchase one.

No military LEO comes out of this report looking good, but there is a clear difference between your regular “beat cops” and the more specialized investigators.

The Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, and the Naval Criminal Investigation Service properly submitted final disposition information 66, 98, and 68 percent of the time. But Army Military Police, Air Force Security Forces, and Navy Security Forces — the everyday cops on the street — got it right only 33, 42 ,and 22 percent of the time respectively.

The Marine Corps, which did not break-out its information, failed to properly report convictions 36 percent of the time.

There’s no way to make this look good

It could be argued that anything less than perfection is not good enough, since one convicted felon possessing a firearm when routine paperwork could have prevented it is one felon too many. One could even excuse a mistake here or there if the LEOs did their jobs properly most of the time.

But this isn’t the first time the DoDIG has examined this issue.

In February 2015, the inspectors examined convictions between 2010 and 2012. The success rate in that investigation was 70 percent across all military LEOs. In other words, the IG looked at this issue less than three years ago, and the failure rate is still the same.

Nothing. Has. Changed. (But in the silver lining category, these numbers were improved from the abysmal figures reported in a 1997 investigation).

The most recent report lays out the specifics for each service and makes recommendations for ways each service secretary can ensure the problem is corrected. Forgive me if I say I’ll believe it when I see it. It is bad enough that 26 innocent people are dead because some negligent Air Force clerk screwed-up Kelley’s paperwork and he was able to buy a firearm. But to learn that the problem was uncovered in at least two prior investigations and remains uncorrected simply boggles the mind.

Heads need to roll over this. But I’m not holding my breath.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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