ATASCADERO — The San Luis Obispo County civil grand jury praised the Atascadero Police Department’s evidence room and management in a report looking over how law enforcement agencies countywide fare at evidence handling, although there weren’t such nice things to say about some of the other agencies.
“The Atascadero Police Department’s property/evidence room is excellent in both management and day-to-day operation,” the grand jury said in its report. “Over the past several years, and during several police administrations, there has been a commitment to continued improvement in the operation of the property/evidence function. It is a model for other agencies to follow.”
According to the report, APD started auditing and improving the property/evidence room, and is the only agency in the county that contracts with an outside consultant to audit it. The 2005 audit resulted in recommendations that the department implemented, and a 2008 audit set forth additional recommendations that the department also implemented.
The most recent audit was in June 2010, and APD received a rating of “MEETS STANDARDS++,” which is the highest available rating. The consultant’s report stated that in 60 performance audits in the past 12 years, the auditor hadn’t rated an agency so highly. That rates the APD in the top 10 to 15 percent of property/evidence rooms in the state.
The room is 368 square feet, and at the time of the grand jury’s inspection, the room was neat and orderly, and evidence within appeared to be packaged properly, according to the grand jury report. Data is backed up with access to the system limited to authorized police administrators. Only the department’s property/evidence specialist has primary access to the room. Grand jury members had to sign an entry log before entry, something the grand jury praised in the report.
According to the report, the department has one property/evidence specialist who also has duties with crime scene investigation. The specialist has a wealth of training for a position that pays $92,307 per year including benefits.
There were 4,154 items in the room at the time of the grand jury’s inspection. Over the last five years, 22,035 items were logged into the room and 19,224 were purged or disposed of, for a purge rate of 87 percent that the grand jury said was “outstanding.”
This despite the fact that, as the grand jury pointed out, the SLO County District Attorney’s office doesn’t have a formal policy and procedure governing the purging or disposal of evidence.
The report found that agencies countywide are experiencing delays in obtaining destruction authorization from the D.A.’s office, particularly regarding marijuana, which is taking up excessive space. There are requests for disposal dating back to 2009 that are still in limbo.
Other counties do have formal policies and guidelines for purging and disposal procedures.
The only things the grand jury found to improve are that the APD doesn’t have any appropriate explosion-proof containers available, and there’s a lack of safety signage.
The grand jury also had praise for the Pismo Beach Police Department, which became accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies in 2007.
The report found that Sheriff Ian Parkinson has made upgrading evidence handling a priority since taking over in January 2011, at which time the evidence room was a “disaster.”
But the report found issues with other evidence rooms around the county, particularly in Paso Robles, where guns, money and drugs were piled on top of each other, with an ongoing data entry error making it impossible to fully know what had been purged and what hadn’t been.
One thing the grand jury recommended is that police chiefs and the sheriff look into consolidating their evidence rooms into one central location to save some money.
The full text of the report is available at http://slocourts.net/grand_jury/reports.