Western Australia’s firearms database has been roundly criticised by the state’s auditor for containing significant data integrity issues that impede the regulation of guns in the community .
The Firearm Controls Audit Report [pdf], released by auditor-general Caroline Spencer on Wednesday, reveals “control and functionality weaknesses” with the state’s licensing and registry (L&R) information system.
The relatively new system used to asses some 10,500 firearm licence applications received each year has only been used by WA Police since 2016.
It is used to record details of “licences applications, licensed firearms and users, licence conditions, and firearms storage” for WA’s more than 85,00 licence holders and 330,00 licenced weapons.
The audit found the system “does not effectively support the entity to carry out its licensing and compliance activities”.
“The L&R system has a number of control and functionality weaknesses around data input, logging and monitoring of data access, authorisation for approving licences, system access and reporting,” the report states.
“These create a risk to the integrity, reliability and completeness of information in the system, and limit Police’s ability to measure, report and evaluate its regulatory performance.”
For instance, the system allows users to enter free text in key input fields like firearm model, which risk “inaccurate, duplicate and incomplete information” being entered.
It has led staff to lose confidence in the system and forced to find additional manual workarounds to managing applications, which the auditor said further “increase[s] the risk of errors”.
“As a result of these weaknesses, staff told us that they lack confidence in the L&R system and prefer to use their own spreadsheets to manage work such as licence applications, deceased estate firearms, and inspections,” the audit states.
Auditors similarly found “limited ability to extract reliable information form the L&R system”, including information on the total number of firearms across the state.
A desktop review indicates problems with the system are said to date back to the “project management to establish the system”.
“We found the way the system was developed and implemented has likely contributed to existing deficiencies,” the report states.
“The project started in 2014, has cost almost $9 million, and functionality concerns raised by staff during development still remain.
“The L&R system does not currently provide the functionality required to help police effectively regulate firearms.”
The audit recommends WA Police address system issues related to “data integrity and reliability, and accurate and timely reporting”, to which the force has agreed.
In response to the audit finding, WA Police said its licensing and registry enhancement project was progressing and would be complete in July.
“It is anticipated this will address the issues relating to data integrity, systems reliability and business reporting.”
The audit is the fourth report to raise issues with the state’s regulation and oversight of firearms, including “weaknesses with the information systems”, over the last 20 years.
“It was disappointing to find that police still has significant weaknesses in its regulatory controls and information systems, particularly given that his Office in its 2009 and 2013 audits had previously reported many of these weaknesses,” Spencer said in the audit’s forward.
However WA is not the only state facing issues with its state-wide firearms database. In NSW, shortcomings with the legacy system exposed “a critical gap in the registry’s data on the location of some firearms”.