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BROWNSTOWN TWP: Police director made revamping property room a top priority

www.thenewsherald.com
By Jackie Harrison-Martin
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Brownstown Township, MI

BROWNSTOWN TWP. — The one room civilians can’t enter, and even most police officers have yet to step foot in, has become the most infamous place inside the Police Department — the property room.

That room drew little to no interest with the public until a scathing 42-page memo drafted by former Police Chief Dennis Richardson was leaked to the public and community in December.

In the nine months since then, people haven’t stopped talking about it.

The memo was addressed to a now-retired sergeant who was in charge of the property room at the time.

The report was riddled with accusations about the securing and disposal of property and evidence in the room.

James Sclater, the township’s director of public safety, has changed all of that.

Addressing the property room was at the top of Sclater’s priority list when he was being named director in May.

Sclater, who was deputy police chief last year at the time the memo was drafted, said he attempted to implement a bar coding system that would identify each piece of evidence electronically long before the memo was written.

Sclater said his efforts to get the program implemented were stalled.

That, too, has changed. The system has now been put into place.

For the first time, the doors to the property room were opened this week to township Board of Trustees and the media.

They were shown the results of a three-month organizational effort to improve the space.

The room that was described as a cluttered mess is now a detailed and organized space for the collection of evidence.

Sclater, along with Lt. Robert Grant and Sgt. Craig Bielecki, volunteered to take on the responsibility of organizing the property room.

The two, along with Sclater, agreed to answer questions about the property room while showing how evidence is now logged and stored.

A trustee asked if any cases were lost because of issues involving the property room, which was an issue mentioned in the memo.

Grant said that out of that entire report there was one case many years ago that was appealed and a piece of evidence inadvertently had been disposed of.

That case eventually was dismissed.

Grant and Bielecki, now the only two officers with the authority to access the property room, went through every piece of evidence that was stored. The room can only be entered by reading Bielecki or Grant’s fingerprints through a computerized program.

Police said the room looked like a bomb went off inside it before they started the organizational process.

Over the past few months, more than 100 guns and numerous bags filled with narcotics were disposed of under the supervision of outside law enforcement officials.

A few of the locations approved to destroy evidence have closed, which might have played a role in slowing down the process of disposing of evidence, Grant and Bielecki said.

Due to the volume of evidence that had been packed inside the room, Grant said he is sure more evidence came in there than ever went out. Grant said the sergeant in charge at the time stored just about everything that came into the evidence room.

Sclater now has created a policy detailing specifically how all evidence is to be handled.

Evidence related to adjudicated cases now will be disposed of in a proper fashion after about six months have passed.

Evidence pertaining to open cases — such as homicides, sexual assaults and violent armed robberies — will remain stored in the room.

Most of the board trustees were not in office when the memo was made public last year, but they all know about it.

The memo was supposed to be an internal investigation, but was given to the media by a resident. It also was circulated throughout the township.

Trustee James Taft complimented Bielecki and Grant for their work in getting the room in tiptop shape. He said he took the memo to a law enforcement officer in another community to review.

Taft said the feedback he received was that the report contained a good deal of one-sided information and any place can be made to look bad from just one point of view.

Sclater said the property room became “a huge black eye” for the Police Department. He said the department is ready to move past that now.

To date, the FBI is holding evidence in the property room, which shows Sclater that there is confidence in the operation.

Although the memo brought public attention to the property room, he said that is not the reason the work was done.

“We did this because it was the right thing to do,” Sclater said.

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International Association for Property and Evidence
"Law Enforcement Serving the Needs of Law Enforcement"
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