Police put evidence custodians in position of trust

York Daily Record (Pennsylvania), McClatchy-Tribune Business News
BYLINE: Ted Czech, York Daily Record, Pa.

West Manchester Township / York City, PA

May 31----Related story: Attorney General's office to take case against former detective. Police departments institute policies to safeguard evidence they have seized in cases, but the position of evidence custodian also requires something that cannot be mandated -- integrity.

Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Robert Kelly said the job is "a position of significant public trust and a position of trust within the agency." Last week, Kelly wrote documents charging former West Manchester Township Police Detective Steven E. Crider with forgery, theft and tampering with evidence. The charges span more than 100 cases during an eight-year period when Crider was an evidence custodian at the department, Kelly said.

West Manchester Township Manager Kelly Kelch said last week that he and township police Chief Art Smith are in the process of reviewing the department's policies on how it handles evidence.

"We're going over policies and procedures; we're in the process of working on them, tightening them up . . . to make sure an incident like this does not occur ever again," Kelch said.

Although Kelch would not speak about specific changes, Crider said in charging documents that there were times when he would mark evidence as "destroyed" but would ingest it instead.

Crider said he was able to do this because "although a witness requirement existed for destruction of drugs, it was not generally enforced," charging documents state.

York City Police Commissioner Mark Whitman has been where Smith is now. In January 2008, former York City Police Sgt. Kurt P. Blemler was charged with one felony count of theft after he confessed to taking thousands of dollars from the department's evidence room to feed his gambling addiction.

Blemler, who was also an evidence custodian, has a non-jury trial scheduled for June 3.

"The bottom line is, these are devastating," Whitman said of evidence room cases. "You feel betrayed; you feel let down. You put your trust in somebody." Whitman said that, within the last year, his department installed video cameras, an electronic pass-key system for entering the room and a bar code system to inventory evidence. "You make the changes necessary to improve security," he said. "I have every confidence in the world that Chief Smith will do so accordingly."

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