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New Missouri law reduces found property claims

The Associated Press State & Local Wire, BC cycle
SECTION: State and Regional
BYLINE: By PAUL SLOCA, Associated Press Writer

Jefferson City, MO

Evidence custodian Mary Ann Palmer doesn't like clutter.

Since 1997, Palmer has watched the evidence warehouse at the O'Fallon Police Department in suburban St. Louis grow increasingly crowded. By last count, for example, there were 107 unclaimed bikes taking up storage space.

But thanks to Palmer's lobbying efforts, evidence custodians across the state may soon see less clutter.

Gov. Bob Holden on Monday signed into law a bill that would require finders of property, such as police departments, to wait just six months for someone to claim it. Under current law, lost property has to be kept for an entire year before it can be auctioned, discarded or taken possession of by the finder. The shorter time span is to take effect Aug. 28.

In one sense, the new law makes more true the common saying: "Finders keepers, losers weepers."

But Palmer said she had practical reasons for pushing for the new law.

"We have an awful lot of found property, especially bikes, that take up a lot of our evidence storage space. That's just the way it is, we just don't have enough space," Palmer said Tuesday. "If someone hasn't come looking for their bikes in six months, they've probably already had them replaced."

Palmer said O'Fallon officials have been trying to encourage people to come forward if something is lost or missing.

"We'd much rather see the owner have it returned to them then sell it at city sale," Palmer said.

Missouri's one-year found property law was one of the lengthiest in the nation, according to the International Association For Property and Evidence based in Burbank, Calif.

Joe Latta, the association's executive director, said waiting periods nationally average 90 days, though some states have 30 day waits. Others' mimic Missouri's new law.

"Thirty days is probably too long," Latta said. "Ninety percent of the found property turned in never gets claimed. It's just a lot of junk. It just sits on the shelf for whatever the statutory time is in a particular state."

Latta said bikes aren't the only things that get stored in police evidence rooms. He said lost backpacks, T-shirts and even smashed calculators have found their way into evidence rooms across the country.

Latta said he was pleased for the sake of evidence custodians that Missouri's bill was signed into law.

"I think Missouri is moving forward," Latta said.

Some would argue that cutting the wait time in half may punish those seeking their lost property, but the bill's sponsor said that's not the case.

"If little Johnny and his dad in the new millennium have access to a telephone or the Internet, hopefully they will contact the evidence custodian about a lost bike," said state Sen. Jon Dolan, D-Lake Saint Louis. "But Johnny and his parents don't seem to look as hard as they used to."

Property bill is SB288.

On the Net:

Missouri Legislature:
International Association of Property and Evidence:

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