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August 16, 2004

The Honorable Thomas P. Hansen
Presiding Judge of Santa Clara County Superior Court
191 North First Street
San Jose, CA 95113

Inquiry Into Police Evidence Rooms in Santa Clara County

Dear Judge Hansen:

I received a letter dated June 4, 2004 from Grand Jury Foreperson Richard Woodward requesting a response as per California Penal Code Section 933(c) to the Grand Jury's final report into police evidence rooms in Santa Clara County. After discussion with City staff, specifically Scott S. G. Vermeer, Police Chief, please find the City of Mountain View's response to the findings and recommendations:

Finding No. I

As a general rule, the County police agencies perform audits of their evidence rooms after there is a change in the senior management of the department or key evidence personnel. Department personnel not directly involved in the evidence handling or its supervision usually perform this audit. Many departments periodically use a spot check of records against the physical items to test the integrity of their control systems.

Response: Agree.

Recommendation No. I

A full performance and physical audit by a competent outside agency should be performed at least every four years. The practice of spot-check auditing should continue at least twice a year.

Response: The City of Mountain View internally audits our property and evidence room quarterly. This internal audit is performed by our Professional Standards Unit. The City of Mountain View Police Department hires an external auditor every two years to perform an external audit of our property room.

Finding No. II

Most police evidence and property rooms are overcrowded and the agencies have expanded secure storage by rehabilitating rooms within the station, renting or purchasing temporary buildings, renting additional space or have resorted to renting commercial public storage.

Response: Agree.

Recommendation No. II-A

Police agencies should complete a total inventory of their evidence and property, and purge those items out of the secured storage area that can be returned to the owner or disposed of per California statute.

Response: We do various inventories throughout the year. To do a complete inventory would be an overwhelming task. Instead, each month, we inventory a different section of property. We purge items on an ongoing basis as time permits.

Recommendation No. II-B

Police agencies should enforce the policy in existence or develop a policy of not holding found property over 90 days in order to regularly clear property out of the system, with special attention to bulky items such bicycles and backpacks.

Response: Our policy states that we hold found property in safekeeping for 90 days, but time and staffing does not always allow us to purge them right at 90 days.

Recommendation No. II-C

Police agencies should explore the development of a common facility within the County for the long-term storage of evidence and property, including biological evidence, and reduce the storage of evidence and property on the police premises to active cases and newly found property.

Response: Palo Alto Police Department is currently looking into a possible regional evidence storage facility. There are issues that need to be addressed such as access, security, cataloging, etc. With the increase in DNA evidence, cold storage has become more important. Freezer storage is almost always near maximum capacity.

Finding No. III

There is no procedure in place for documenting the change of custody that occurs when the police relinquish possession of evidence to the court for trial.

Response: Agree.

Recommendation No. III

The Grand Jury recommends that until a common policy for the transfer of evidence into the court system is adopted by the courts and the County's police agencies, that it be the responsibility of the police department to obtain a court official's signature on a dated receipt listing all evidence handed over to the jurisdiction of the court, with copies provided to the court. The same receipt can be signed and dated again when evidence is returned to the police department.

Response: I was on a committee within our local property and evidence association just for this issue. We recognized this is a real problem and it is still being discussed. Part of the problem is that the courts do not track evidence as efficiently as property rooms. Also, if an officer takes evidence to court and finishes testifying, he/she leaves the evidence with the District Attorney (the evidence may or may not be entered as an exhibit at trial). Nobody from the court will sign for the property unless it is actually made an exhibit, so the evidence ends up in limbo.

Finding No. IV

Some police evidence rooms do not vent narcotic holding areas separately from the main air conditioning system.

Response: Agree. The City of Mountain View Police Department has invested in a separate venting system for our narcotics locker. This venting system vents the fumes from the narcotics locker directly outside.

Recommendation No. IV

Police agencies should install an appropriate air venting system or move the narcotics storage area to a location where venting to the outside can be economically installed.

Response: We recently constructed a fan and ventilation to vent our narcotics cage to the outside; however, ideally a narcotics locker should be a separate room with its own ventilation.

Finding No. V

The lack of office automation in some evidence rooms increases the clerical workload, introduces a possibility of errors into the tracking system and inhibits the timely identification of property records for final disposition.

Response: Agree.

Recommendation No. V

Police agencies should acquire appropriate computer hardware and software to track evidence and property in and out of evidence rooms. A standard spreadsheet or database program would often suffice.

Response: We have used an automated bar code system since well before 1998. We have had the same system since 1998 and are due for an upgrade.

Finding No. VI

Top management within the police agencies often stay clear of evidence rooms.

Response: Disagree somewhat. The City of Mountain View Support Services Manager does periodically enter the room and can function in place of the Property Room Technician.

Recommendation No. VI

The chief of police, or equivalent, or his deputy should tour and review the evidence room at least annually to observe the working conditions for evidence room personnel, the condition of the evidence room and the operating procedures.

Response: The Chief of Police should tour the property and evidence room on a yearly basis.

Finding No. VII

Most of the police agencies within the County are members of CAPE and SCRAPE and participate in procedural development and network at educational development conferences provided by CAPE and SCRAPE.


Response: Agree.

Recommendation No. VII-A

Police agency personnel involved in evidence and property matters should continue to participate in CAPE and SCRAPE functions.

Response: We are part of both CAPE (State) and SCRAPE (County) associations, and the Property Room Technician attends meetings and training on a regular basis.

Recommendation No. VII-B

Santa Clara County police agencies should explore the possibility of inspecting each other's police evidence rooms to share good techniques and ideas. In periods between external audits, periodic audits by another police agency could provide many of the benefits of an external audit at relatively little cost.

Response: Probably a good idea. We share ideas at meetings, but actually doing site visits would be a good way to see how other agencies work, both good and bad.

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the Santa Clara County Civil Grand jury's final report-inquiry into police evidence rooms in Santa Clara County. Should you have any additional questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

Matt Pear
Mayor



                     
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