A justified audit Cleaning house in Rogers

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock)

Rogers / Springdale, AR

IT'S GOOD to see Rogers' police department getting around to the mess in its evidence room. An audit a few months back found major problems that could easily have undermined the cops' credibility in the courtroom.  Just ask Springdale's police department about its problem back in the late 1990s. A newspaper investigation led to revelations, dismissals and resignations. One result: The city lost its police chief.

In Rogers, when Chief Steve Hamilton joined the department last year, one of the first things he noticed, according to a story by Tom Treweek of the Benton County Daily Record, was the department's lack of written policies. So he requested an audit. Which has now been performed by Sherry Royal of the Springfield, Mo., police department. And she found a number of problems.

For instance, she noted a small refrigerator used to log evidence that needs to be kept cold. Its contents, Ms. Royal discovered, weren't properly organized. Among other problems spotted in the audit, various items stored for weeks in the evidence room weren't identified by bar code. Which meant they could get mixed up with irrelevant evidence and cause problems when court dates roll around. At least she didn't find anything missing from the evidence room. Which was the big problem in Springdale a decade ago.

But a lot of the evidence was mislabeled. Of the 43 items Mr. Royal checked, only 10 had been logged in correctly. Of the remaining 33 items, five items of found property were sealed with evidence tape. And five pieces of evidence weren't. There were also items Ms. Royal couldn't link to a specific case. And one such object came from a murder case. Or as she put it: "Items in the closets of the annex include homicide evidence from an unknown case." Not good.

There was evidence marked as destroyed that hadn't been - apparently because of delays in getting court orders. And a general misunderstanding of state law about destruction of confiscated evidence.

Those were only a few of her findings. Mayor Steve Womack called some of what he read in the report "almost alarming." For some of us, there was no almost about it. Happily, Hizzoner seems happier about the evidence room these days. Chief Hamilton is breathing easier, too, now that the department has started carrying out Sherry Royal's suggested reforms.

When he first came through the door, the chief had a bad feeling about what he saw-and didn't-in the evidence room. So he took corrective action on his own. Which is a lot better than having to do it because a defense attorney has pointed out those flaws in court - and destroyed the police department's credibility in an important case.

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