Evidence Room Fix Is Expensive

Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico), SECTION: FINAL; Pg. C1
BYLINE: T.J. Wilham Journal Staff Writer

Albuquerque,NM

Over $400,000 Has Been Spent So Far

Albuquerque is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on supplies, computer equipment, attorneys, consultants and investigators to fix the police department's evidence room.

Since 2003, the city has spent or has budgeted to spend as much as $409,461. And three positions have been added or moved to the evidence room, totaling yearly salaries of $150,612.

The total amount doesn't include the countless hours and overtime being spent to do a complete evidence inventory.

"If you put this against the overall police department budget (of $120 million), this is nickels and dimes," Mayor Martin Chavez said. "Whatever we have to spend, we will spend it to make this a professional evidence room."

The evidence room has been the target of several investigations and scrutiny since 2000, when a city internal audit revealed several problems.

In 2003, an internal inspection discovered two employees were allegedly stealing from the evidence room. The state Attorney General's Office recently completed an investigation and will release a report in the coming months.

Gilbert Gallegos stepped down as APD chief last month amid allegations he didn't act quickly enough to solve serious problems in the evidence room. Before Gallegos left the post, he had hired or was going to hire as many as three consultants to audit or investigate the evidence room.

This week, the city is spending as much as $19,750 on one of those consultants hired by Gallegos to review policies, procedures and randomly audit certain evidence items.

Joseph Latta, a former police officer and executive director of the International Association for Property and Evidence, is expected to conclude his review today. In about 90 days, he will issue a report to the city.

Latta, who has done about 60 evidence room audits across the country, is the third person or agency to audit or review the evidence room since 2003.

City internal auditors conducted three audits. Last year, the city spent nearly $3,000 for Maximum Security, a private firm of former FBI agents, to review evidence procedures.

Police officials said Latta's audit will be thorough and give the evidence room some credibility it needs.

Latta told reporters Wednesday he was impressed with the facility.

Latta made some initial recommendations, which include developing a system to dispose of a large amount of old evidence. APD officials have said disposing of evidence has been difficult because prosecutors want them to hold onto everything.

"The inventory in this agency is huge," Latta said. "As big as this inventory is, they have a backlog. That backlog is going to take a long time to get rid of because you just can't arbitrarily throw it away."

The most expensive item the city bought is a $300,000 computerized inventory tracking system. The 2003 purchase was made before police officials learned of the employee theft allegations.

The computer system was a part of an overall capital improvement plan. However, it took almost two years for APD to start using it, according to an APD memo obtained by the Journal. The system went online in December 2004.

"This is probably the most important purchase we have made to support the evidence room in the past several years," Interim Police Chief Joe Bowdich said of the computer system. "It is a very efficient system and has done some good for us."

APD Evidence Room Expenses

Computerized inventory tracking system: $300,000

Computer system supplies: $17,576

APD captain to oversee the evidence room: $66,560 a year

Civilian inventory expert: $48,734 a year

Civilian evidence technician: $35,318 a year

Supplies to do an inventory: $40,000

Four attorneys hired by the city's Independent Review Office: up to $25,000

Joseph Latta, International Association for Property and Evidence executive director: up to $19,750

Hazardous material removal: $4,065

Maximum Security, consultant hired to do an audit: $2,280

Security window: $790

GRAPHIC:
PHOTO: Color LATTA: Consultant may conclude review today

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