Local Police agencies deal with evidence differently

Unclaimed items sold online and off, destroyed or donated to charity

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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If you picked up a few deals on Black Friday or plan to take advantage of Cyber Monday, police suggest taking note of serial numbers on those shiny, new electronics.

Evidence rooms around the county are full of iPods, laptops, game consoles and other electronics found by police or turned into them by the public. (Popular items also include bikes, guns and empty bags, purses and wallets.) Police do their best to return items to rightful owners but it can be hard to tell one laptop from the next -- unless someone happens to have a serial number or personal information on the device.

Gail Truax, records supervisor with the Battle Ground Police Department says when police recover an item such as an Xbox, they'll run the serial number through a system to see if someone reported it missing. If they did, they can get in touch with the owner and return the item. That doesn't happen all the time.

Items unclaimed after 60 days (or 75 for some departments) can be sold in sales or at auctions, both online and off. Items with little or no value are destroyed or donated to charity. Items that could be used by police or local governments, such as power tools, are usually kept.

A few local agencies, including the Vancouver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff's Office, are using auction website PropertyRoom.com.

Washougal Cmdr. Allen Cook said his department started using the website a few years back.

"It's actually been very good for us," he said.

Washougal police sends money earned in sales back to the city's general fund. It also uses the site to sell surplus items, including police cars. Cook said the department gets more money for cars from PropertyRoom than it did in city auctions, even when you factor in PropertyRoom's fees.

Ridgefield Police Chief Carrie Green said her department has used the website in the past. It hasn't since she took the job about five years ago.

"We don't take in a ton of evidence," she said.

Most items are returned or destroyed.

Bikes are frequently recovered. If police don't find the owner after posting posters around town, they'll send the ones worth saving to local charities such as Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Green said. Ones in bad condition are recycled.

The Camas and Battle Ground police departments are still doing things the old fashioned way: an in-person auction or sale.

Battle Ground Records Supervisor Truax said this year her department sold items in the city surplus sale. Items can fetch more at the sale than at online auctions, where hundreds of similar items are available, said Leo Painton, BGPD property and evidence technician.

One of the more interesting cases the Battle Ground duo came across involved $1,500 in bonds recovered earlier this year.

Patrol officers found a box with bonds inside that belonged to a woman who lived in Independence, Mo., Traux said. Evidence technicians got in touch with the woman, who said she lived in Vancouver a few years back, when the bonds were stolen in a burglary. Technicians returned the bonds to her, which were then worth $7,000.

"We made her pretty happy," Traux said.

Camas Sgt. Scot Boyles manages his department's evidence. When it's time to sell items, he tries to think if the item would fetch more than a few bucks at a garage sale. If so, he'll sell it.

"Is it worth the city's time to have me deal with this?" he said. "If it doesn't make sense (to deal with it), we destroy it."

Boyles said he sees a lot of iPods, empty bags, purses and paintball guns. He also sees his fair share of weapons and drugs.

And no, the department won't be selling confiscated marijuana back to the public after Initiative 502 passed, Boyles said. It will be destroyed.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twtter.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.