Recent internal audits of the Asheville Police Department’s new evidence room, which was opened in 2011 after the old evidence room was sealed by investigators, found only minor discrepancies but emphasized a looming shortage of storage space.
The reports, obtained by Carolina Public Press through a public records request, cover three big planned audits and one small surprise inspection, all conducted between July and December of 2012.
APD Chief William Anderson participated in the surprise inspection, which took place on Dec. 7. Anderson noted that “the new room was congested, but orderly,” according to a report by Lt. Mark Byrd.
“The need for additional space is great,” Byrd added.
The old evidence room, which is the subject of an ongoing State Bureau of Investigation probe, was badly cluttered, according to an outside auditor hired by the city of Asheville.
Last July, Mike Wright, manager of Blueline Systems and Services, informed City Council that among the room’s many problems was that it was overfilled with evidence and property.
“An aggressive and continuous purging program must be implemented to get the inventory of the facility under control and to prevent the inventory from outgrowing the storage capacity,” Wright said.
Now, both the old and new evidence rooms are facing a space crunch. A series of photos of both rooms, taken by Anderson in December and included in the newly released documents, hints at the extent of the problem. (See the report on Anderson’s inspection, and his photos, below.)
William Kiley, a former president of the International Association for Property and Evidence, stressed the risks of overstocked evidence rooms in a 2008 article in The Police Chief magazine.
“When property rooms are filled beyond their designed capacity, the results can have a devastating impact on the agency and often on the entire criminal justice system,” he wrote. “Agencies lose their ability to properly track, secure, locate and dispose of property and evidence.”
New procedures documented
Blueline’s extensive audit of the old evidence room was delivered to Buncombe County District Attorney Ron Moore just over a year ago. Moore has refused to release that report, and a public records lawsuit filed by Carolina Public Press and four other local media outlets last year failed to obtain its release.
A partial audit of the of the old evidence room, conducted in March 2011, indicated that significant quantities of guns, drugs, money and other valuables had gone missing. The audits of the new room identify some new safeguards.
For example, personnel staffing the new room have a so-called “two officer mandate.”
“This mandate is that two officers will be together while in the secured property areas,” one report noted. The rationale is that no single officer should handle evidence without another officer present.
And while Blueline’s Wright reported that poor and nonexistent record keeping had made locating items in the old room difficult, the new room is reportedly well-organized.
“The property room personnel were able to locate the items with ease,” Anderson noted during the recent surprise inspection.
“The areas observed were neat and orderly given the space constraints,” Byrd added in his report.
Recent discrepancies attributed to clerical errors
According to the newly released documents, the new evidence room is a tighter ship than the old one. But the occasional record-keeping discrepancies still crop up.
An audit of 100 randomly selected items was conducted on July 24 — incidentally, the same day Wright made his bombshell presentation to City Council about problems in the old room. It found several cases of faulty record keeping, including:
• A mismarked bag of money: “Inspection found that the total was correct but money was improperly marked. Bag indicated 10 $10 bills in paper currency. It actually contained 10 $1 bills, which combined with the remaining currency to make the correct total of $36.13.”
• Misidentified weapons: A handgun was identified as a .22 caliber weapon, when in fact is was a .25 caliber model. A flare gun was misidentified as a .22 caliber pistol.
• A marijuana mistake: “Item was submitted as 0.1gr of marijuana. Upon inspection it was determined that the actual weight of the seized materials was 1.8gr.”
Internal audits of 150 randomly selected items were conducted on Oct. 16. and Dec. 20. Both reported no discrepancies.
Anderson’s surprise inspection, on Dec. 10, looked at seven items. One of them, a backpack the department had recently released to its owner, had a faulty case number, owing to a typographical error that was subsequently rectified, the report said.