Wednesday, June 20, 2012

(San Luis Obispo) Supervisors OK new evidence room for sheriff

Decision comes after grand jury criticism, but Ian Parkinson has been asking for the room since he took office in early 2011

By Bob Cuddy -

Less than two weeks after the San Luis Obispo County Civil Grand Jury criticized local police departments and the Sheriff’s Office for having inadequate evidence rooms, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a new evidence room for the sheriff.

The timing was coincidental. Sheriff Ian Parkinson has been lamenting the inadequacy of evidence storage facilities almost since he took office a year and a half ago. But the grand jury report, which also critiqued the county’s seven police departments, has put a spotlight on the problem.

In a report to supervisors, Parkinson wrote that his current evidence/property room is in a 2,500-square-foot World War II barracks the county acquired from Camp San Luis Obispo in 1966.

It has a pair of 8-foot by 12-foot freezers as well as shelving and carts gathered over the years as surplus county property. Because the building is too small, the sheriff has had to store evidence in four shipping containers, each at a different locale.

“More evidence arrives each day,” Parkinson wrote. In 2011, the department processed more than 10,000 cases, and the evidence inventory is exceeding 75,000 items.

Parkinson asked the board to approve a new evidence storage area in a 5-year-old, 2,300-square-foot building on Kansas Street currently being used to store vehicles. He estimated that the new setup would store up to 45 percent more and be adaptable in case the department needs more room.

The proposal also would incorporate a steel-titanium security cage, a vault for drug storage, a drug storage refrigerator, two walk-in freezers and three work stations.

The project would cost $420,000, of which $370,000 would come from public facility trust fund fees and $50,000 from asset forfeiture funds.

The expenditure would leave $586,201 in the trust fund. The asset forfeiture fund is money the government raises from the seizure of assets from suspected though not yet convicted criminals.

In a highly detailed report released earlier this month, the civil grand jury criticized inadequacies and disparities in the way various departments handle evidence.

They also spent considerable time stressing the importance of evidence rooms.

The rooms store not only evidence in criminal cases, but also contraband, property set for destruction and property for safekeeping.

Mishandling any of this, or mismanagement, “can easily lead to court cases not being filed, loss of public confidence … personnel problems, litigation, and possible financial loss,” grand jurors wrote.

It could also interfere with the administration of justice, in the sense that “prosecution or exoneration of a person may be jeopardized,” the grand jury wrote.

One of the grand jury’s recommendations was to consolidate the several property rooms into one countywide locale, as is being considered in San Mateo County. Such a move could save a considerable amount of money, grand jurors hypothesized.

The grand jury’s recommendations are nonbinding.

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