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Tybee Island police laud larger evidence room

Savannah Morning News,
BYLINE: Dash Coleman

Tybee Island, GA

Sgt. Charlie Powers shows the different bongs the Tybee Island police confiscated inside the property room. The new police station includes a larger property room which houses the more than 200 items. Brittney Lohmiller / Savannah Morning News

The Tybee Island police department’s new property room isn’t exactly cavernous, but officers say it’s a notable improvement over the old one.

Neatly packaged on shelves in the larger room are a variety of items either found and dropped off to police or seized during arrests and investigations. An old TV and a mini-fridge sit in one corner, and a long surfboard rests atop a large shelf that houses bag after bag of evidence, lawn-care tools and several other random items, including an acoustic guitar and a deflated raft.

Then there are the drugs and firearms. A gated area within the property rooms houses five metal filing cabinets and several boxes full of drugs and drug paraphernalia confiscated from 2001-2014. Most of it’s marijuana.
“That’s the big drug we do get a lot of is marijuana,” said Tybee Island police Sgt. Charlie Powers, who oversees the property room.

About a half-dozen water bongs that are too big to be stored in the cabinets sit atop them — the oldest pot pipe dating back to 1992.

A separate room within the larger one stores firearms. Police have custody of more than 30 rifles and about 50 handguns, dating back to the early 2000s, Powers said.

Currently, the department is working to get rid of old found and confiscated property and evidence. Drugs and guns can be tricky, Powers said. The sergeant works with the city attorney’s office and then gets approval from a judge to dispose of the items.

In the case of the old drugs, which are next up for scrapping to make way for new evidence coming in, Powers said disposal is handled through a partnership with the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team.

Several times yearly the agency disintegrates controlled substances gathered as evidence from cases that are closed and past the point of appeal, said CNT spokesman Gene Harley. The agency will include drugs from other departments that need help disposing of controlled substances, he said, and agents keep records of what gets destroyed.

Ways of disposing of firearms include a cutting method, crushing and destruction by military. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will assist local police if needed.

While some of the guns are seized as part of investigations, Powers said that’s not always the case. Sometimes, officers will confiscate firearms during arrests and they will be stored in the property room until given back to the owner. At other times, people lose their guns and they’re turned in as found property. The sergeant said most of the time, guns turned in are reunited with their owners.

“Bags, wallets, driver’s licenses and bicycles are the big found items around here,” Powers said.

When items are turned in to the police department, officers log them into a database and then they are stored in the property room. In cases such as wallets, purses and IDs, police don’t have much trouble getting items back to their owners.

If no one claims property within 90 days, police start the process to move it out of their custody. Depending on the item, sometimes it can end up in auction per what an attorney decides.

“It’s a lengthy process,” Powers said.

With about 200 items being stored in the property room now, there’s always a need to make more room for evidence.
“In some cases, there are over 36 items in one case,” Powers said.

In some cases, such as sex crimes or homicides, evidence must be kept permanently, he said.

While Powers is working to get more shelving in place in the new property room, he said it’s a welcome improvement from the one at the old, recently torn down police department next door on Van Horne Drive. There, the property room was about the size of his current office.

Police Chief Bob Bryson called the shift to the new property room “a massive undertaking.”

In addition to more space, the new property room is more secure. Only the chief, major and Powers have keys that access it, and there are two cameras inside. The process for turning in evidence has improved, too, Bryson and Powers said.

Officers turning in found property or evidence place the items in lockers, secure them, then drop the keys inside. Once in, only the supervisor who has access to the inside of the property room can access the other side of the lockers to retrieve the items and store them.

“You name it, it’s probably in here,” Powers said. “We do work on the beach, and people bring weird stuff down here.”

Sgt. Charlie Powers shows shotguns, paint guns and other firearms the Tybee Island police confiscated inside the property. The new police station includes a larger property room which houses the more than 200 items Brittney Lohmiller / Savannah Morning News

Sgt. Charlie Powers shows marijuana the Tybee Island police confiscated inside the property room. Brittney Lohmiller / Savannah Morning News

Sgt. Charlie Powers shows where officers place evidence and found property to be securely transferred and stored in the departments property room. Brittney Lohmiller / Savannah Morning News

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