Air Force Taking Steps to Correct “Systemic Problems” with Criminal Reporting

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 6 about the Air Force investigation into its criminal reporting procedures in the wake of the Nov. 5 shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Screenshot photo from C-Span video.

The ongoing Air Force review of its criminal reporting practices has found that “the breakdown in reporting was not limited” to the case of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooter and “was not limited to this detachment at Holloman Air Force Base” in New Mexico, where the shooter was previously stationed, service Secretary Heather Wilson told Congress Wednesday.

The investigation has uncovered “systemic problems,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the service is already taking steps to improve its reporting.

So far, changes focus on building new safeguards into the recording and transmission system. Wilson said the Air Force has added “steps to case management” so “higher headquarters must also check off that fingerprint records have been filed.” In addition, the service has added a procedure to ensure that “when the file is actually archived, the file is checked again to make sure the fingerprints have been put on record.” Finally, investigating officers now will be required to “check the database to ensure the fingerprints have been properly recorded and received by the federal database.”

The Air Force is also attacking the problem through education, Wilson said, noting the service already has “updated its training requirements.”

“On the 17th of November we had a worldwide stand down for all offices of the Office of Special Investigations for retraining and reminding of what the requirements are under DOD and Air Force policy,” she told the committee.

When Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked Wilson whether Congress should add a “specific article on domestic violence” to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Wilson demurred. “There is a proposed revision to the UCMJ manual for court martial that has enhanced penalties for assault against a family member,” she said. When Blumenthal said a change to the actual code could “send a message” to potential violators, Wilson replied that she was worried about “some things that our attorneys have identified as potential unintended consequences.”

The Air Force believes it will take “between four and five months to complete the database review” it is currently conducting, Wilson said, because “we are dealing with four government agencies, no less than 10 databases, and five title codes,” and the work largely has to be conducted manually. She said the service has also asked its chief data officer to explore “whether there are ways to improve this system electronically.”

Also on Wednesday, family members of four victims of the Texas shooting filed a claim against the Air Force. The family of five-year-old Ryland Ward, who remains hospitalized with injuries from the shooting, is filing the claim on his behalf as well as that of his two sisters and stepmother, who were killed in the shooting, according to a News 4 San Antonio report. This action follows a wrongful death claim filed last week by Joe and Claryce Holcombe, who lost children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a future great-grandchild in the mass shooting.