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Nevada County Civil Grand Jury issues report on law enforcement handling of evidence

The Nevada County Sheriff's Office is out of compliance with its own
written policies and procedures, and with best practices concerning
audits and inventories," the report stated.

June 14, 2016

The Nevada County Civil Grand Jury on Monday issued a report examining how local law enforcement agencies collect and retain evidence, which was critical of the Nevada County Sheriff's Office on several issues.

Notably, the grand jury found that the property unit of the Sheriff's Office has not been subject to an external audit since 2007 — and there are no written records of any internal audits, inventories or investigations since that time.

"The Nevada County Sheriff's Office is out of compliance with its own written policies and procedures, and with best practices concerning audits and inventories," the report stated.

The grand jury also critiqued the Sheriff's Office for its out-of-date written policies and procedures.

According to the grand jury report, the only written policies in place are a property and evidence manual dated 2008, which apparently is not used. A property unit technician reportedly has been creating a desk manual but that remains incomplete after three years.

Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Pettitt said Monday afternoon that he had not yet had the opportunity to review the findings and recommendations, and was not able to issue a response yet.

The grand jury report examined evidence handling at all four county law enforcement agencies — the Sheriff's Office, and Grass Valley, Nevada City, and Truckee police departments.

All four departments had enough space and proper supplies, and all were adequately staffed, the report concluded. The process for purging evidence was found to be appropriate for all agencies, although it was noted there was a concern regarding the timeliness of receiving authorization to dispose of evidence by the District Attorney's Office. The DA recently had declared a new policy to speed up that process, the report noted.

The Sheriff's Office was found to be "distressingly" overdue on an external audit, while Nevada City — whose last audit was in 2013 — was considered overdue. It was noted that Nevada City was using sworn officers to handle evidence, but that there was an effort under way to assign and train a community services officer to handle those duties part time. Grass Valley's last audit was in 2014, the grand jury noted, and was given an above standard rating.

The grand jury also noted that Nevada City and Grass Valley had considered consolidating their evidence handling units in the past, and should do so again.

The possibility continues to be discussed, said Nevada City Police Chief Tim Foley.

"There are a lot of intangibles" to be discussed, such as convenience and IT considerations, he said, adding the concept makes sense but cost efficiency was a concern.

Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Most of the grand jury's recommendations dealt with the Sheriff's Office — including the adoption of written policies and procedures, an immediate external audit, a complete inventory upon the pending retirement of its senior evidence technician, and periodic spot inventories with a written record. Those recommendations, as well as a recommendation that the DA's office continue to develop and improve its process for authorizing the disposal of evidence, requested a response by Aug. 15. Other recommendations to Nevada City, Grass Valley and Truckee requested a response by Sept. 13.

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email or call 530-477-4229.

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