Bursting at the seams: Police evidence locker stuffed to capacity

March 2015 Posted in Community, News
Dori Elliot sorts Silverton Police Department evidence.

Dori Elliot sorts Silverton Police Department evidence.

By Brenna Wiegand

Making arrests and seizing evidence is a triumph – and a burden that can leave police holding the bag – literally. Unlike suspects, evidence lingers at the police station for months or even years.

It must be cataloged, packaged and securely stored until the gavel comes down and the case is closed.

“We’ve outgrown our space so our evidence locker is pretty much busting at the seams,” Silverton Police Chief Jeff Fossholm said.

“We get to the point where we’ve got to go through and check all those cases and get permission from the DA to dispose of the evidence.”

Fossholm said most of Silverton’s gun seizures are more a matter of safekeeping: A juvenile is pulled over and a gun is found, mistakenly left in the car by his parents. It’s held until they come for it. Where a mental health or domestic violence issue has flared up, police will remove firearms until things are resolved.

Usually connected with a crime, drugs, too, must be held until the case is adjudicated. Silverton Police officers have made arrests on drug cases including heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

“It’s a weird time for marijuana; we’re legalizing it so some people figure it should be legal now,” Fossholm said. “We have to seize it and hold onto it to make sure the courts don’t order us to give it back.

“There are so many exceptions now; a medical marijuana patient who doesn’t have their card – that’s actually a case where we’d have to give it back to them by court order,” he added. “It’s to be determined how we come out of this.”

When it’s time to purge the evidence locker, everything is put in specific-sized boxes and taken to the Waste-to-Energy Facility in Brooks. Unlike bulk garbage, the boxes are sent up a conveyor belt and watched by camera until they enter the incinerator.

These things aren’t just removed from circulation; along with 90 percent of Marion County’s garbage, they’re incinerated at temperatures reaching 2,000 degrees F, heating water into steam that drives energy producing turbines. Each year the facility produces approximately 13 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a city the size of Woodburn for a year.

“It doesn’t bother me to get the handguns off the street, but it’s sad to see some really nice rifles go once in awhile,” Fossholm said.

On occasion a court may order a gun for department use or for sale to a licensed gun dealer, but most of what the chief sees aren’t in good condition and have been illegally modified. Cash is handled differently.

“We just had a case – it took about a year and a half to get through the court system – where the money was turned over to the victim as restitution,” Fossholm said.

Evidence isn’t limited to guns and drugs.

“If you have a hit and run and the front bumper and license plate are left at the scene; if you’re cutting up flooring or carpet, that’s evidence,” Fossholm said.

“We’ve been lucky lately; one nearby precinct is having to hold onto a whole king size bed. That’s the challenge of police work; all the evidence collecting.”

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