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The Oregonian, SECTION: SOUTH ZONER; Pg. B01
BYLINE: EMILY TSAO - The Oregonian

November 12, 2004 Friday SUNRISE EDITION

Clackamas County, OR

Summary: Craig Roberts pushes for a review of the 81,000 items that include guns and drugs seized in criminal cases.

The Clackamas County Sheriff's Office property building, which contains such evidence as guns, cash and drugs seized in criminal cases from murder on down, has not been fully inventoried in about three decades.

Sheriff-elect Craig Roberts is pushing for a review of the 81,000 items before he takes office in January. "It has been such a long time since it has been done," he said.

Interviews with all Portland-area sheriff's property rooms show that Clackamas County is among the most lax in its inventory procedure.

The Clark County Sheriff's Office conducts two unannounced spot checks annually, said Dave Beeman, who manages a property room with about 100,000 items. Full inventories are conducted when there is a turnover of key personnel.

Beeman said the last complete inventory review took place in 2001 after he was hired and another employee was accused of stealing drugs from the property room.

Clackamas County Sheriff Pat Detloff said he is exploring an inventory, at Roberts' request. However, Detloff said any review probably would not be complete by the time he leaves office.

Most other Portland-area sheriff's offices conduct either annual full inventory reviews or spot checks, where a sampling of items are pulled and matched with records.

Industry professionals are trying to move toward universal standards on property room procedures and protocol.

"If you can't find a gun used in a homicide, you have got a big problem," said Robert Giles, board president of the International Association for Property and Evidence, based in Burbank, Calif.

Located near the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, a nondescript building holds thousands of pieces of evidence -- beer cans, baseball bats, cash, dried marijuana plants, golf clubs, rifles, rings, shotguns, car parts, clothing, urine samples, a bloody mattress and more. Many of these items, a few dating as far back as the late 1960s, hold the key to someone's innocence or guilt.

Oregon law requires new sheriffs to assume responsibility for all property room evidence, including guns, cash and drugs.

Even though there have been no recent reports of theft or tampering in the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office, Roberts said he has concerns about signing for the evidence without a full inventory.

Any misdeeds, even small ones, in the property room can create a ripple effect within the criminal justice system. Last week, the Milwaukie Police Department confirmed it is investigating a former Milwaukie police technician accused of filing false evidence reports. It is unclear how many cases are affected.

Clackamas County property specialist Sandi King said there hasn't been a full inventory review of the Clackamas County property room since she started working there in 1975.

King said specific checks for cash and guns have taken place as recently as November 2003. But a full audit "is something that should be done."

Detloff said he did not know whether there had ever been a complete inventory at the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.

The property room has had two spot checks in the past 20 years -- one in the early '80s and one in the early '90s, Detloff said. The spot checks showed "everything was working fine," he said.

"I'd rather spend dollars in direct law enforcement services than . . . for an inventory of the property room," Detloff said.

Emily Tsao: 503-294-5928;

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