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The Oregonian, LOCAL STORIES; Pg. B01
BYLINE: EMILY TSAO - The Oregonian

Clackamas County, OR

Summary: After a former Milwaukie police technician is accused of filing false evidence reports, Craig Roberts wants a full accounting.

The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office property building, which contains such evidence as guns, cash and drugs seized in criminal cases from murder on down, has not been fully inventoried in about three decades.

Sheriff-elect Craig Roberts is pushing for a review of the 81,000 items before he takes office in January. "It has been such a long time since it has been done," he said.

Interviews with all Portland-area sheriff's property rooms show that Clackamas County is among the most lax in its inventory procedure.

Clackamas County Sheriff Pat Detloff said he is exploring an inventory, at Roberts' request. However, Detloff said any review probably would not be complete by the time he leaves office.

Most other Portland-area sheriff's offices conduct either annual full inventory reviews or spot checks, where a sampling of items are pulled and matched with records.

Industry professionals are trying to move toward universal standards on property room procedures and protocol.

"If you can't find a gun used in a homicide, you have got a big problem," said Robert Giles, board president of the International Association for Property and Evidence, based in Burbank, Calif.

Located near the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, a nondescript building holds thousands of pieces of evidence -- beer cans, baseball bats, cash, dried marijuana plants, golf clubs, rifles, rings, shotguns, car parts, clothing, urine samples, a bloody mattress and more. Many of these items, a few dating as far back as the late 1960s, hold the key to someone's innocence or guilt.

Oregon law requires new sheriffs to assume responsibility for all property room evidence, including guns, cash and drugs.

Even though there have been no recent reports of theft or tampering in the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, Roberts said he has concerns about signing for the evidence without a full inventory.

Any misdeeds, even small ones, in the property room can create a ripple effect within the criminal justice system. Last week, the Milwaukie Police Department confirmed it is investigating a former Milwaukie police technician accused of filing false evidence reports. It is unclear how many cases are affected.

Clackamas County property specialist Sandi King said there hasn't been a full inventory review of the Clackamas County property room since she started working there in 1975.

King said specific checks for cash and guns have taken place as recently as November 2003. But a full audit "is something that should be done."

Detloff said he did not know whether there had ever been a complete inventory at the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

The property room has had two spot checks in the past 20 years -- one in the early '80s and one in the early '90s, Detloff said. The spot checks showed "everything was working fine," he said.

"I'd rather spend dollars in direct law enforcement services than . . . for an inventory of the property room," Detloff said.

An inventory, he said, could take about three months and could cost $30,000.

According to the nonprofit International Association for Property and Evidence, property room inventory should be reviewed annually or when there is a turnover in key personnel.

Giles said the group has been promoting such industry standards for the past five years.

"We just started getting the word out that law enforcement needs to do these internal controls and keep the public trust," he said. "A minuscule percentage of law enforcement agencies are performing to these standards."

Calls to sheriff's office property rooms in the Portland area show a range of practices.

The Clark County Sheriff's Office conducts two unannounced spot checks annually, said Dave Beeman, who manages a property room with about 100,000 items. Full inventories are conducted when there is a turnover of key personnel.

Beeman said the last complete inventory review took place in 2001 after he was hired and another employee was accused of stealing drugs from the property room.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office has a 60,000-item property room that undergoes a full inventory check annually, as well as when there is turnover in property room personnel, said Sgt. Dave Anderson. The room also undergoes unannounced spot checks and other inspections.

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office property room, with about 30,000 items, has not had a full inventory review in at least 26 years, said Rick Gustafson, a property-evidence technician. Spot checks happen almost annually, he said.

The Clackamas County property rooms are closed to the public. Detloff allowed reporter for The Oregonian to tour them but would not allow photography, citing security concerns and respect to victims' families.

The main property room resembles a library, but the wooden cubby holes are filled with items that reflect lives and deaths. Here, the ordinary takes on new meaning.

A plastic hockey goalie mask used by a criminal to hide his identity sits in one cubby hole. Cans of beer -- Bud Light, Miller, Busch -- and bottles of vodka and Jack Daniel's serve as evidence in drunken driving cases.

The oldest pieces of evidence are a child's shoes and clothing from a 1968 murder, King said. Homicide evidence is not destroyed until the killer has died or the case has exhausted all appeals.

Sheriff-elect Roberts said that after an inventory of items is completed, he hopes to continually review and audit the property room to meet state and national accreditation standards.

"This holds us all accountable," Roberts said.

Emily Tsao: 503-294-5928;

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