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Audit: Police stick to their guns;

Idaho Falls Post Register (Idaho), Main Edition

Idaho Falls, ID

IFPD evidence room is praised but must improve gun disposal

An auditor gave a good review even though four times too many firearms are currently in storage.

Nearly 600 guns are stored in the Idaho Falls Police Department's evidence room - four times the number of firearms a law enforcement agency of its size should have at any given time.

This lack of purging is one of the most pressing problems facing the department's property unit, according to a recently conducted performance audit.

The audit also revealed, however, that the department has met most standards in property and evidence operations.

Dan Bullock, a former deputy police chief in San Jose, Calif., conducted the audit over three days in early August. Chief J. Kent Livsey called for the $6,000 review in response to former City Prosecutor Kimball Mason's convictions for stealing guns from the evidence room.

It's the first time the police department's evidence-handling procedures have been scrutinized, either internally or externally.

Mason, who pleaded guilty to two counts of grand theft for guns he took and faces seven additional charges, did not walk into the property room and lift the guns, per se.

Rather, he presented evidence custodians with court orders - some legitimate, some bogus in the court's eyes - and convinced them to give him the guns.

After reviewing 41 aspects of the department's evidence procedures, Bullock gave the IFPD an overall rating of "Meets Standard (minus)," which "should not be viewed as 'below average,' " he wrote, "but, instead, should be viewed as a laudable achievement, especially for a property unit that has not been previously audited."

Bullock rated the IFPD on par with the top one-third of law enforcement agencies in California, which is recognized as the leading state in the professionalism of property rooms.

"We're really proud of this," Livsey said.

The strength of the unit, Bullock said, is Property Office Manager Zuella Nelson, who's been running the property room for nearly three years.

But his praise also uncovered some of the department's shortcomings.

"Detective Nelson has done a commendable job in the property room in spite of limited training, inadequate staffing, untrained supervision and inadequate facilities and equipment," he wrote.

Nelson attended a property management training session in Boise a couple of years ago, but she's not certified by the International Association for Property and Evidence, which Bullock recommended. Livsey said Nelson will attend the training in 2007.

Other problems Bullock noted include an incomplete manual on evidence handling and infrequent internal reviews or audits. In response, Livsey said, the department will start conducting internal audits every four months.

But the main problem Bullock found was the abundance of guns in the property room, which he said is overcrowded, unsafe and not well-organized.

A department the size of Idaho Falls, which has about 90 sworn officers, should hang on to only 100 to 150 guns at any given time, not the 590 Idaho Falls currently has, Bullock wrote.

This backlog, he wrote, represents years of neglecting to destroy or sell guns and failing to convert them to department use.

Livsey said he's assigned another officer to help Nelson get rid of the excess guns.

The chief also plans to purchase computer software that will categorize evidence in the property room using bar codes. Bullock recommended the software, which would enable Nelson to track down a gun's chain of command in less than an hour, rather than the days it took to locate the guns Mason took. The software costs $35,000, however, and its purchase will need City Council approval.

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