Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content
Justice System

Gov. Josh Shapiro’s admin blames ‘human error’ for deletion of Pa. State Police records

by Angela Couloumbis of Spotlight PA |

A Pennsylvania State Police vehicle.
Commonwealth Media Services

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds power to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania. Sign up for our free newsletters.

Update, Jan. 24: Some deleted Pa. crime lab records ‘no longer accessible,’ according to State Police official.

HARRISBURG — Thousands of records, including evidence logs from the Pennsylvania State Police’s crime labs, were accidentally deleted from state servers at the start of the year — the result of “human error,” Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration said.

Though the majority of records have been restored, according to administration officials, it is not clear — nor certain — whether the remainder can be recovered.

The data was housed on servers managed by Shapiro’s Office of Administration, which oversees information technology services for most state agencies. Its spokesperson, Dan Egan, said in an emailed statement the data loss, which occurred on Jan. 3 during routine server maintenance, was “limited.” But he also said the office had launched “a thorough review” of its information technology policies and controls.

Egan did not elaborate or respond to questions Tuesday seeking more information.

At least one Office of Administration employee was fired over the incident, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

In an email, State Police spokesperson Myles Snyder said the data mishap impacted two programs used by its Bureau of Forensic Services to log evidence and manage those submissions. The bureau operates six forensic labs and one DNA lab which collectively process crime-related evidence from hundreds of local police departments across the state.

Snyder said the Office of Administration has been able to restore access to “nearly all” of that information. He stressed that no physical evidence was lost.

One local law enforcement official who asked to remain anonymous told Spotlight PA that the data still missing involves evidence logs for more recent crimes — a loss that could affect how those cases are prosecuted in the future. That is because those logs document what is known in law enforcement circles as the chain of custody, or details on the time and place evidence was collected, who handled it, and where it was sent for analysis.

The association representing Pennsylvania’s district attorneys said Tuesday it has not received any reports of problems so far.

Its executive director, Kelly Callihan, wrote in an email that her organization believes there should be “minimal impact on cases as PSP labs have policies for internally tracking evidence and documenting forensic testing that is done; often referred to as the ‘old-fashioned-way’ of managing evidence in terms of chain of custody.”

The association representing police chiefs in the state did not return a request for comment.

Shapiro’s office has also been silent on the issue, even though the Office of Administration falls under the governor’s jurisdiction.

Among the questions his administration did not answer was whether the review of the office’s policies should be conducted by an outside agency, rather than internally.

Snyder said the State Police alerted district attorneys and other law enforcement officials of the data loss on Jan. 11, and another letter with updates was sent to them on Monday. State Police did not respond to a request Tuesday for a copy of the letter.

Also on Monday, Shapiro administration officials separately briefed legislative leaders on the matter.

The accidental data erasure, first reported by PennLive, affected at least one other state agency: the Pennsylvania State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS).

There, sign-in data that allowed users to log into the system to review their pension and other benefits was lost, according to SERS’ website. Those people will now have to reset their personal identification numbers.

“No pension or other retirement benefit data was impacted,” SERS’s website states.

Pennsylvania’s Office of Administration, which falls under the governor’s jurisdiction, is responsible for a broad swath of services, among them, overseeing information technology policies, standards, guidelines, and security for most state agencies.

In 2017, as a cost-saving move amid budget problems, former Gov. Tom Wolf directed the consolidation of information technology across state agencies. Before that, many state agencies had their own IT staff and offices.

BEFORE YOU GO… If you learned something from this article, pay it forward and contribute to Spotlight PA at spotlightpa.org/donate. Spotlight PA is funded by foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results.

Get the top news from across Pennsylvania, plus some fun and a puzzle, all in one free daily email newsletter.