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:
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
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
Recommendation No. I
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.
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
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
is no procedure in place for documenting the change of custody that
occurs when the police relinquish possession of evidence to the court
Recommendation No. III
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
Finding No. IV
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.