SALT LAKE CITY — Utah law enforcement agencies need to do a better job of keeping track of the mountain of evidence they collect and store each year, according to a new state audit.
The Utah State Auditor's Office on Wednesday announced its findings in a 19-page report called a “Review of Property and Evidence Storage and Management Among Selected Utah Law Enforcement Agencies.” The review examined how seven unnamed local law enforcement agencies handle the evidence and other property they acquire.
The agencies ranged from a large department that oversaw 90,000 people in its jurisdiction, employed more than 100 full-time officers and had collected more than 40,000 pieces of evidence, to one that had under 30,000 people in its jurisdiction, employed 20 to 30 full-time officers, and had between 2,000 to 6,500 pieces of evidence in its inventory.
State Auditor John Dougall said Wednesday the names of the agencies audited were not being released as the findings of the audit were meant to be a learning tool for all agencies. He said the audit was not prompted by any specific event. It was just something that hadn't been done in a while, Dougall said.
Police officers typically take control of all kinds of evidence through search warrants or items that are turned into them, such as bicycles, jewelry, clothing and phones. The audit put an emphasis on how drugs, guns and money were handled.
The report found that the records of some agencies did not match the actual property being held in storage. One agency had more than 160 items that were misplaced, missing or inaccurately marked, the audit found.
Another problem uncovered was law enforcement agencies had inadequate controls over property storage, the report found, and some agencies do not keep track of digital property records. The audit recommended that agencies conduct regular inspections and annual audits on their evidence inventory.
Dougall said two areas of concern were how property was disposed of, and law enforcement agencies not issuing receipts for seized property as required by the state.
Disposing of evidence is the "most risky" area for potential violations, he said. There needs to be more of a separation of duties to ensure checks and balances, he said. The person in charge of disposing of property should not be the same person also in charge of keeping inventory of it, Dougall said.
Another problem area was issuing receipts to property turned over to police. Departments did a good job of issuing receipts for items seized as part of a search warrant, he said, but not a great job when property was randomly turned over to police, such as when a citizen turned in a piece of property that they may have found lying on the ground.2 comments on this story
"Property owners, prosecutors and other interested parties expect a law enforcement agency to take measures that provide reasonable assurance that property in the possession of the agency is secured, tracked and maintained. Additionally, state statute requires agencies to hold seized property 'in safe custody' and maintain 'a detailed inventory of all property seized,'" the audit states.
Other recommendations by the audit included video surveillance systems in evidence rooms, better logs for signing in, and making sure only active employees with job-related needs have access to digital property reviews.
Dougall said the audit did not look at whether additional staffing or money, or how much money, may be needed to implement the recommended changes.