Police property room takes green approach

The Blade (Toledo, Ohio), STATE AND REGIONAL NEWS
BYLINE: Bridget Tharp, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio

Toledo, OH

Oct. 06--Most of the stolen flat-screen televisions, confiscated firearms and samurai swords, and shoplifted retail clothing that fill the shelves of the basement property room of the Toledo Police Department downtown don't stay there forever.

Some unclaimed items are sold online. Others are destroyed. Police have another way to clear the shelves: recycling outdated or broken electronics booked into the property room for cash.

The practice has netted about $1,800 for the city this year and is expected to yield about $3,000 before the year ends, the property room supervisor, Sgt. Ed Mack, said. Officer Tom Hanus urged him to consider the idea about 18 months ago, Sergeant Mack said.

"It saves items from going to the landfill, and gets money to the general fund," he said.

With limited space and manpower, property room staff try to clear out unneeded items when possible. Doing so is a challenge, when a single drug raid could allow officers to clear nearly all the property from a suspect's home, property room Officer Bob D'Agostino said. All those items are assigned a bar code and serial number when booked into the property room.

Many items in the basement property room are marked with red tags to show they are evidence -- drugs, weapons used during criminal acts, soiled clothing, or other DNA evidence related to a murder or felonious assault -- that must be kept for pending court cases.

Rows of white cartons marked as evidence collected from rape victims fill a wall of one room. Those boxes must be kept for years, often for decades, in anticipation of court appeals from a suspect and changes in technology, Sergeant Mack said.

One of the larger, double-locked rooms has shelves lined with cardboard boxes containing narcotics and marijuana. Officer D'Agostino opened a locked fireproof cabinet to reveal plastic-wrapped "tar heroin" -- a black, gummy substance rolled into quarter-size spheres that is the raw material processed to make the street drug. At his feet was a ripped couch cushion that he said had stored narcotics in another suspected drug dealer's home. Nearby, marked manila evidence envelopes held mostly cash, substances, and firearms.

Marijuana and narcotics unneeded for prosecution will be destroyed by incineration. Confiscated liquor and spirits will be poured down the drain because the process of reselling unopened bottles to the state is cumbersome, Sergeant Mack said.

Many goods that are not considered evidence or are not claimed by their owners may be claimed for city use, Sergeant Mack said. City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei has such a flat-screen TV in her office. Detectives or the scientific investigation unit often use seized or lost digital cameras, Officer D'Agostino said.

Many of the abandoned or stolen bicycles are donated to churches that retool them for needy Toledoans, Sergeant Mack said.

Stuffed animals and other toys in the property room may be distributed to children at crime scenes or in the detective bureau, Officer D'Agostino said.

Other items may turn a small profit for the city.

Since 2006, the department has been selling some unclaimed goods through an auction Web site, Propertyroom.com. The department earns half of what items sell for online up to $1,000, and 75 percent after that, Sergeant Mack said.

At least 500 of the firearms stored this year have been melted down and sold to a manufacturer that will use the metal to make refrigerators, Sergeant Mack said.

And in a tough economy, every little bit helps.

"In the old days we used to just throw it all in the dump," Officer D'Agostino said of previous disposal practices. "Now, the city gets 400 bucks here, 200 bucks there."

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

or 419-724-6086.

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