The Observer-Dispatch, uticaod.com
BYLINE: ROCCO LaDUCA, Observer-Dispatch
New Hartford, NY
NEW HARTFORD — The New Hartford police have taken steps to better keep track of evidence after several items of stolen property were mistakenly destroyed instead of being returned to their owners, officials said.
The New Hartford Town Board recently agreed to pay a total of more than $500 to four people whose electronic devices were disposed of last September by a New Hartford police investigator after the related criminal case had been resolved in court.
Because the investigator failed to realize that the items’ owners were identified in the case file, he smashed several GPS devices and an iPod with a hammer in accordance with department policy, police Chief Michael Inserra explained.
The mistakes were later discovered when one of the upset owners alerted the department and the Town Board that he wanted to be reimbursed for the loss.
Inserra acknowledged this week that a regretful mistake had been and said that additional safeguards have since been put in place to prevent such an oversight from reoccurring.
“I have addressed it as upfront and as honestly as it could be addressed, because evidence is a touchy subject and to have a mistake happen in the evidence room is never a good thing,” Inserra said. “Internally, there was an investigation to determine how and why it happened, and we have instituted even more policies to assure that it won’t happen again.”
Among the current precautions: Labeling each item in the evidence room with an electronic identifying tag and requiring the officer to first review each file to determine if the items’ owners have been identified.
The devices were among more than 25 items found in a backpack after a suspect, Charles Kulick, was arrested in June 2011 while trying to sell the items at the Pawn King on Commercial Drive. Because the items’ owners were never identified, they were set to be destroyed once the court case had ended, Inserra said.
Although Inserra was upset enough by the mistake, a disappointed Town Councilman Don Backman also expressed his frustration at a recent board meeting that taxpayers had to pay the bill for this error.
“People are human and mistakes are made, but don’t do this again,” warned Backman, of the First Ward. “If there are changes that need to be done to handle that evidence then let’s implement those changes now. I don’t want this to happen again, and I’m sure the chief doesn’t either.”
But Backman also was shocked to hear that such unclaimed evidence is simply destroyed, instead of being sold on eBay to cash in on their value.
“To throw out an iPod, does that make sense?” Backman said, noting that items have been auctioned off in the past. “I would hope in the future there will be no destruction of unclaimed evidence, and I’d hope they bring it to the board and ask: What should we do?”
Inserra explained that dozens of unclaimed items had been sold on eBay previously because they were sitting around for years in connection to a major stolen property fencing operation from 1995. But on a much smaller scale, Inserra said it takes too much time and effort to try and sell them, he said.
“It’s such a labor-intensive process that when you only have a handful of items, it’s not really worth it,” Inserra said.
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International Association for Property and Evidence
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