A recent review of law enforcement agency policy and procedure on evidence storage and management was released by the state auditor’s office last week.
The state auditor’s office selected seven agencies, which were not identified, from around the state for the review. Findings included property records not matching evidence storage, inadequate controls over property storage, insufficient controls for property disposal, not issuing receipts to the owners of seized property, and inadequate controls regarding access to digital property records.
The three largest local law enforcement agencies in Tooele County — Tooele City Police Department, Grantsville City Police Department and Tooele County Sheriff’s Office — all have established procedures that dictate how they handle obtained evidence.
Tooele City police catalogue their evidence using a records management system, according to Tooele City Police Sgt. Jeremy Hansen. Each piece of evidence is assigned a specific barcode, placed on the package it is contained within, then secured in a different area of the evidence room depending on whether it’s drugs, firearms or general evidence.
If a sheriff’s deputy confiscates evidence, it is transported to an evidence building, where each piece is documented in the Spillman system, according to Tooele County Sheriff Chief Deputy Brian White. Spillman Technologies provides record management services, computer-aided dispatch and other services to law enforcement agencies. All seven agencies in the state auditor’s report use Spillman.
If drugs are part of the evidence collected, they are weighed or counted, with the amount recorded on the booking sheet, White said.
The deputy packages the evidence and gives it a label with the case number and evidence number, according to White. The evidence and its booking sheet are placed into a temporary locker and secured.
An evidence technician removes the evidence from the temporary locker, confirms each piece of evidence to its booking sheet, then places it on a shelf with a specific location number. The exact location, time, date, who booked it, and who received it into the Spillman system are recorded.
Grantsville City police catalogue their evidence by case number, according to Grantsville City Police Chief Jacob Enslen. The department has separate storage rooms for drugs and weapons, with all evidence organized using a grid system for the shelving units.
Once the evidence at any of the agencies has been safely stored away, internal audits can help ensure items don’t go missing. The state auditor’s office found some of the subject agencies had problems with missing or misplaced items, or items that were marked for destruction but still in inventory, and items destroyed but still listed in their inventories.
Following their move into the new justice center last year, Grantsville City police are in the midst of an evidence audit that began last August. Once the reorganization is complete, there will be monthly inventory checks and annual audits, according to Enslen.
In its latest audit this February, the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office found no discrepancies, according to White. In the February audit, the evidence technician was given a list of random case numbers and pulled the evidence locations based on the Spillman system.
If drugs were involved, they were weighed or counted to insure it matched the records, White said. Any evidence cleared by the judicial system in the audit was reviewed to ensure it was either properly destroyed or returned to the proper owner and documented properly.
The property room at the Tooele City Police Department is audited annually, according to Hansen. The audit is conducted by a division commander, as selected by Tooele City Police Chief Ron Kirby.
The only issues in the annual audits come from cases prior to 2006, when there was no computerized evidence management software system, Hansen said. Some of the older evidence folders could not be located and the evidence technician from that time is no longer employed by the department. Any discrepancies were documented in the audit report.
In addition to internal audits to ensure evidence is properly documented and held, evidence rooms must be secured. In the state auditor’s report, some of the seven agencies reviewed had concerns with unrestricted access by individuals other than property technicians and their supervisors.
The auditor’s report also identified many of the agencies had property rooms that didn’t have alarm systems or multiple requirements to enter the room, such as keys, personnel cards or biometric identification.
In the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office, there are two locations where evidence is stored, which are in secured rooms with confidential security measures, according to White. The rooms are under video surveillance and access is restricted.
Only the evidence techs, the lieutenant and chief have access to Grantsville City’s evidence room, according to Enslen. Officers secure their evidence in lockers and lock them; once secured, the lockers can only be opened from inside the evidence room.
Tooele City police secure their evidence room inside the evidence custodian’s locked office, behind a chain link fence with two locks, which require different keys, according to Hansen. Only the evidence custodian, evidence supervisor and those specified by the chief are allowed into the evidence room.
Any other personnel accessing the evidence room are required to sign a log, showing their name, date and time, reason for entrance and the identity of their escort. Cameras are located outside the evidence technician’s office, which also cover the evidence lockers where officers book the evidence, Hansen said.
Once a court case has run its course and is deemed closed, evidence is returned to the original owner, if permitted, or destroyed. Law and department policy inform how local agencies release the evidence.
If notified by prosecutors, evidence may be returned and the evidence custodian attempts to notify the rightful owner their property is available by mail or certified mail, according to Hansen. Prior to release, the owner must provide documentation establishing ownership and proof they may lawfully possess the property.
Once the property is returned, a receipt listing the details of the property is signed by the owner and retained within the department, Hansen said.
For the Tooele County Sheriff’s Office, evidence lists are generated and sent to the County Attorney’s office, where each case is reviewed, according to White. Once a case is deemed closed, it is documented on the evidence sheet and approval for destruction of specific evidence is documented on the sheet as well.
The evidence technician then pulls all evidence approved for disposal, which is removed from the storage shelves and placed into boxes, White said. The boxes are taped shut and the technician documents the destruction in the Spillman system.
The boxes of evidence are then placed in a truck and secured, according to White. Two deputies then transport the evidence to a secure landfill to observe the destruction of the evidence to ensure it’s completed properly.
Grantsville City police submit requests for destruction to the city attorney’s office, according to Enslen. Once approved, the items are destroyed “by the appropriate protocol.”
Utah state code dictates much of the procedure around the disposal of evidence, under Title 24, Chapter 3, Section 103.
The complete report from the state auditor’s office is available online at reporting.auditor.utah.gov.