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Audit of PCSO evidence storage examines excessive backlog

San Tan Valley Today,
BYLINE: Chase Kamp Today Publications
Link to Article

Pinal County, AZ

2011-08-13_Audit of PCSO evidence storage examines excessive backlog_01
PCSO evidence storage facilities have material stacked to the ceiling.

With evidence warehouse shelves stacked to the ceiling and a small number of overwhelmed staffers, an independent audit of PCSO evidence storage facilities found rampant disorganization and potential for misplaced or tampered evidence.

The internal audit, conducted by California-based Evidence Control Systems Inc., concluded PCSO evidence storage contains upwards of 300,000 items, about five to six times larger than comparable departments.

The 300-page audit concludes that many of the items are inadequately stored, organized and protected, and that most of them need to be discarded.

“Drugs aren’t stored with enhanced security which is required by all professional standards,” the report reads. There is no video surveillance in drug storage, gun storage or the main warehouse.

An estimated 25 percent of evidence items are not stored in the computer database, with data entry of new evidence at least 90 days behind.

Evidence substations in San Manuel, Gold Canyon and Queen Creek have faulty locks, drop-boxes and slots that can lead to evidence tampering, the audit found.

Sheriff Paul Babeu claims no cases have been affected by the disarray but the potential for problems is significant.

“At this time we are not aware of any issues raised in the audit affecting any past or current cases,” Babeu said in a written statement. “The possibility it could have affected cases is real and this is why we are trying to address it now so no victim will ever be denied justice.”

Elias Johnson, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer said Babeu initiated the audit to get recommendations from Evidence Control Systems, whom he said set the industry standard for evidence storage. “We’re not happy about it,” Johnson said, “We’re hoping to be transparent about the situation.”

Johnson said the evidence problem has been passed down from previous administrations. “Staffing levels have not changed since the 1990s, when we were very still rural,” Johnson said.

The understaffing and rapid population growth in Pinal County has led to mammoth backlogs. The report states PCSO takes in an average of 7600 evidence items a year and only purges about 2500.

“The most important priority is getting new evidence secured and logged,” Johnson said. “Staff has been so busy with that, they haven’t gotten to the second priority, which is purging.”

The report estimated 90 percent of evidence items in PCSO’s Bailey Street main facility were eligible to purge.

Johnson said PCSO plans to add three to four new evidence technicians to the staff. One technician has been hired since the public release of the audit. “We still don’t have the office space to put them in,” he said.

PCSO is drafting a policy for evidence handling that will address report findings such as an inconsistent bar code system and evidence checkout procedure. “Any deputy within the organization can virtually sign-out evidence for any case without question,” the report reads. “Additionally, there are no controls ensuring that the evidence is returned to the property room.”

Johnson said a proposal to the Board of Supervisors is being planned and he estimated additional staffing, technological improvements and expansions to facilities could cost up to $1.5 million.

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