Evidence Room Issues Common

Albuquerque Journal (New Mexico), SECTION: FINAL; Pg. B1
BYLINE: T.J. Wilham Journal Staff Writer

Albuquerque, NM

Troubles at APD Seen Elsewhere

The problems plaguing the Albuquerque Police Department's evidence room are not uncommon.

Sanford, N.C., Middletown, R.I., Memphis, Tenn., Detroit, Canton, Miss., and Colfax, Ind., are all cities that have had property missing from a police department's evidence room in the past year.

In all of those cities, officers or police employees were involved.

Although it hasn't been determined what is missing from APD's property room or who might have been involved, the state's Attorney General's Office has been conducting a criminal investigation since March.

The problem?

"We in law enforcement don't know how to run warehouses," said Joseph Latta, a former police officer and executive director of the International Association for Property and Evidence . "We know how to catch bad guys."

"It's also tempting because 99 percent of what is in an evidence room is crapola and never makes its way into court."

Problems with APD's evidence room came to light last March when an anonymous letter was sent to several law enforcement officials alleging jewelry, drugs, weapons and cash were missing and questioning APD's handling of the investigation.

Police Chief Gilbert Gallegos asked the attorney general to investigate and hired a private company to review APD's evidence procedures.

In the past couple of months, the procedures review has been completed and Gallegos ordered an inventory of what is in the evidence room.

A memo written by an APD lieutenant in October says Gallegos didn't act soon enough, which allowed people to destroy any trace of wrongdoing.

Several experts in evidence and property inventory issues were contacted by the Journal and were provided copies of news stories that were published on the evidence room issue.

Most agreed Gallegos should have conducted an inventory sooner. However, they said the chief might have a good reason.

"I am not surprised they didn't do one sooner" said Jack Ryan, a former Providence, R.I., police officer who was in charge of his department's evidence room. "Can you imagine how long it would take to go through every single piece of evidence in there? They probably thought they could solve this problem without going through the entire place and they can't.

"Yes, they should have conducted an inventory much sooner while they were looking at their procedures."

Ryan took over the evidence room in Providence six years ago after allegations emerged that property was missing.

The first thing he did: conduct an inventory. He also had procedures examined and developed a new inventory system. The process used to track evidence took about two years, he said.

"Wal-Mart in one or two days can do a complete inventory of a store," Ryan said. "We can't do that in law enforcement. They can do that cause they have a system and most law enforcement agencies don't."

On Tuesday, Gallegos said he decided not to conduct an inventory right away because he did not want to interfere with the criminal investigation. The chief said he is working with national experts like Latta to develop an evidence system.

Gallegos said he is also proposing to fund a new position to oversee the inventory of the property room. The employee would likely be a civilian who is an expert in inventory not law enforcement.

"We put officers in charge of evidence and their expertise is to go out and investigate crimes. Property is not an officer's strength," Gallegos said. "Finding out what is in there is going to take time. This is a 30-year-old problem. People are expecting miracles, and we are not going to end up with miracles overnight."

Evidence Room Problems

SANFORD, N.C. -- A police officer was arrested and accused of stealing marijuana from the evidence room.

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. -- A police officer was charged with stealing marijuana from the police station.

MEMPHIS, TENN. -- A former property room manager admitted to stealing a large amount of cocaine while he worked in the evidence room. The manager was one of 16 people indicted in connection with the theft.

DETROIT -- An evidence room employee allegedly stole 100 kilograms of cocaine, sold it, and used the money he made to buy properties.

CANTON, MISS. -- About $5,000 was found missing from the department's evidence room. The police chief repaid the money that was missing.
COLFAX, IND. -- A town marshal was charge
d after he allegedly opened an evidence locker and allowed two people to help themselves to marijuana inside.

Source: International Association for Property and Evidence

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