December 19, 2004
Scottsdale ordinances regarding the disposal of unneeded evidence violate state law in several instances and likely allowed the destruction of property that should have been returned to its owners, a city audit released last week states.
Before the Scottsdale Police Department can begin destroying thousands of pieces of unneeded evidence, the city ordinances will need to be changed, City Councilman Jim Lane said.
A report city auditor Cheryl Barcala released last week details a series of systematic failings that led to faulty maintenance and documentation of evidence stored by the police department. In several instances, biohazard materials, guns, narcotics and other drugs were not destroyed in a timely manner or have been lost.
The audit committee, which is made up of three City Council members and oversees Barcala’s office, is devising a pair of recommendations to fix the deficient evidence storage system.
Lane, chairman of the audit committee, said the council must bring the ordinance into line before the police department changes its procedures to ensure problems do not persist. Police Chief Alan Rodbell has said his department is committed to following the reforms laid out by the auditor and has already begun working on some.
A new crime lab, being built near the intersection of McKellips and Miller roads, is scheduled to be completed in 2006. Rodbell said that facility itself will solve many of the problems plaguing Scottsdale’s evidence storage.
The ordinance violates several state laws, according to the audit. Police officers are required by the state to provide a receipt when confiscating a firearm, money or other piece of property from a person. The city has no such requirement.
Arizona’s rules of criminal procedure require that stored evidence be released within 30 days after its case has been closed.
"Procedures do not ensure that the (police evidence division) is informed promptly when evidence can be released," the report states. In addition, the police department’s hierarchy does not have any guidance as to what to do with evidence no longer needed by the city prosecutor.
City ordinance requires that "spirituous liquor, weapons, dangerous instruments, or explosives and property used in the commission of a crime" be disposed of. However, the audit states that Arizona law does not require the destruction of property that is not "inherently illegal to possess unless there was a courtordered forfeiture."
City Attorney Joseph Bertoldo declined comment Friday on the audit, saying he was not aware of it. But he did say there is no process to determine if city ordinances do not comply with state law. Ordinance reviews are conducted on a case-by-case basis, when issues arise.
"Usually when a case comes out or a (new statute) comes out, we would do a review," Bertoldo said. "Sometimes ordinances won’t be checked for years. There are too many other things to do."
City Manager Jan Dolan did not returned repeated calls for comment.
Determining which of more than 100,000 pieces of property being stored by the police department at its existing facilities and in rented storage lockers should be destroyed is likely to be difficult. Rodbell said Wednesday that he has organized a group of police department employees to inventory everything in storage to determine what can be destroyed.
The first phase of that work is to be completed next month, the audit shows.
The police department for years has relied on paper invoices to track locations and conditions of stored evidence, according to the report. Police officials said they blame a faulty computer record management system, lack of space and a staffing shortage.
Besides reviewing an ordinance change, the audit committee is working on other recommendations regarding how evidence storage procedures are redesigned.
Councilman Wayne Ecton, an audit committee member, declined to discuss what the recommendations might include.
"I’m not ready to go into that," Ecton said.
Another committee member, Councilman Bob Littlefield, has suggested the auditor be given additional oversight powers for the police department.
The council is expected to work on the issue early next year.
"We have an assembly of a lot of things that probably should be destroyed," Lane said. "The idea of waiting for a new building (to fix the problem), it doesn’t really fill the bill."