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Cornelius police complete first full evidence inventory in 18 years, chief says

The Oregonian,
BYLINE: Rebecca Woolington, The Oregonian

Cornelius, OR

Ken Summers Cornelius Police Department

The Cornelius Police Department on Tuesday completed the first full inventory of its evidence room in at least 18 years, Chief Ken Summers told the police citizen advisory board during a meeting Wednesday evening.

Summers started the effort in November shortly after joining the agency as interim chief. The department’s former top cop, Paul Rubenstein, was on administrative leave, pending an internal investigation.

Initially, Summers said the last inventory was conducted about 12 years ago. But the department later discovered the last one was about 18 years ago, he told members of the city's Community Oriented Policing Citizen Advisory Board at Wednesday’s meeting. He did not specify how the discovery was made.

Summers said the department could not account for one speaker and car stereo. All other items were eventually located.

It’s unclear how the speaker and stereo went missing. “We don’t know what happened to it,” Summers said.

From start to finish, the inventory took about eight months. It began when Summers told Lt. Joe Noffsinger to conduct a surprise audit on the evidence room, and he did so on Nov. 21.

Things, Summers said, looked grim: Only 65 percent of items were in their proper locations. Meaning, the location of the evidence stated on associated paperwork and the actual location of the evidence matched less than 2/3 of the time.

“It was really hard not to flip out,” Summers told the board. “I’ve never seen something so bad.”

The department first thought multiple firearms, about $2,500, and jewelry were missing because of paperwork and placement issues. Summers said the agency later accounted for those items.

The International Association for Property and Evidence, he said, recommends that agencies conduct surprise audits every six months and a complete inventory annually. Cornelius police will now operate on those standards.

Summers, a retired Yamhill County sheriff’s captain, told the board that before he started as interim chief, he discussed with Cornelius City Manager Rob Drake that he would need to conduct an inventory. It was critical, Summers said, because evidence is a high liability for the department.

Summers was appointed interim chief on Nov. 13, after former Chief Rubenstein was placed on leave pending the investigation, which started after four Cornelius officers alleged “ongoing corruption” in the department. Rubenstein retired from his post on Valentine’s Day; Summers was sworn in as the agency’s new chief on July 1.

During Wednesday's meeting, board member Cathy Small voiced frustration about the state of the evidence room, and Rubenstein’s leaving with severance and vacation pay. The city has said Rubenstein received $10,000 in severance and a $24,000 vacation payout.

After Rubenstein was gone, others, she said, were left to deal with the problems in the evidence room.

“And that makes me angry,” she said.

Summers tasked Property Specialist Marlene Thomas, who works part-time, to conduct the inventory. While she was completing the assignment, Summers told the board he grew impatient. Thomas, he said, did a good, thorough job, but he was eager for the results.

In addition to the inventory, new property and evidence procedures have been implemented.

Thomas, Summers said, is now the only person who can access the evidence room alone. Other department members can go into the area in pairs. Previously, the police administration could also access the room alone.

The department took other measures to lockdown the building, including installing motion alarms and securing the ceiling.

“We’ve really tightened the security,” Summers said.

Paul Rubenstein

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