The evidence locker

Nicholas Studenski

University of Minnesota police confiscate everything from drugs to musical instruments, and they store it all in the property room of the Transportation and Safety Building.

Most items fall into the categories of audio and video recordings, drugs and drug paraphernalia, said University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner.

When police officers collect evidence, they tag it with the case number it’s associated with and enter it in a computerized evidence tracking system. University police have more than 3,490 items cataloged, not including items stored in the room that predate the digital inventory.

Police also inventory lost property that’s turned in to them.

In comparison, Minneapolis police public information officer John Elder said there are currently more than 250,000 pieces of evidence in the Minneapolis police property room, and that number is growing.

Minneapolis police collected 122,725 new pieces of evidence in 2013 and disposed of only 69,374, he said.

Throwing it out

After the case associated with a piece of evidence is through the court system, University police keep the item for at least one year before getting rid of it.

Though police have to keep evidence for that long, Miner said it’s rare that they need it again.

Audio and video recordings are the most common pieces of evidence used in court. Miner said the recordings come from cameras on squad cars and police interviews, among other sources. Police store the footage on a hard drive and keep copies in the property room.

When the year is up, police try to return the evidence to its owner.

Often, possession of the evidence itself is a crime — as with illegal drugs or weapons. In those cases, Miner said, officers put the contraband into a barrel and ship it to a disposal facility to be incinerated.

There’s no schedule to clean out the evidence room, he said, but officers go through and “purge” old evidence when they have time.

In the case of lost items, like backpacks and phones, University police hold them for a few months while they try to find the owner. If that doesn’t happen, police donate the items to Goodwill or the University’s ReUse Center.

Minneapolis police hold evidence until the case is out of court and the period for appeals is over.

Elder said Minneapolis police have returned all sorts of evidence to the original owner, from smartphones to bed sheets.

If Minneapolis police can’t find the item’s owner after six months and the item is valuable, he said, they put it up for auction.

Biological evidence

Sometimes, police collect biological evidence such as urine or DNA samples.

Miner said police usually don’t keep biological samples at headquarters — instead, they send them to a testing facility.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension usually tests urine samples, and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office usually does DNA testing, he said.

IDs

Miner said University police rarely encounter fake IDs, especially because few places on campus serve alcohol. And the number of confiscated IDs has gone down since Minnesota included a hologram on driver’s licenses, he said.

Elder said he thinks bars and liquor stores confiscate IDs that look fake, but they often don’t turn them in to police.

By law, Elder said, IDs only need to be turned in if they’re used when someone is committing a crime. It’s not a crime for someone under 21 to show a fake ID at a bar until alcohol is purchased, he said.

Drugs and alcohol

In some cases, police confiscate property that they don’t need as evidence, Miner said — for example, when they catch someone smoking marijuana and let them off with a warning.

Disposal in these cases is less formal. Miner said police often flush marijuana down the toilet.

Elder said Minneapolis police most often collect drugs and alcohol.

When they cite someone for a crime that involves drinking alcohol, Elder said, Minneapolis police take a sample of the beverage as evidence, in case the suspect argues that their drink wasn’t alcoholic. University police do not take samples of alcohol, a difference that Elder said is a matter of department policy.