Police evidence room houses more than a few odds ‘n’ ends

Rocky Thompson

Drugs, money, guns and light fixtures have one thing in common: They’ve done time in the University police evidence room.

Behind three locked doors, a small room holds every piece of evidence in limbo confiscated from crime scenes around the University. Only three people at the station have access to the highly secure room, and the chief of police isn’t even among them.

“It has a little bit of everything,” said community service officer Rob Wilkinson.

Wilkinson manages the day-to-day activities in the evidence room including intake, cataloguing and disposal of the items, and Lt. Chuck Miner oversees the activity. A safe, which holds cash and valuables, can only be accessed by the station’s accountant.

Anything that could be used in an investigation can be seized and held, Wilkinson said. This includes obviously illegal contraband such as drugs, but also tools used to perpetrate a crime and clothes worn during a crime. Sometimes even bizarre things can be taken from the crime scene, such as light fixtures, Wilkinson said.

Clothing or bedding can be seized from crime scenes in sexual assault or assault cases. Sometimes when suspects’ descriptions are given, their clothes are taken when they are booked, Wilkinson said.

After leaving the crime scene, officers put evidence in storage lockers attached to the room.

From there it can be processed in a crime lab or simply held. Evidence can be kept for a couple of days or indefinitely. Much of it only stays approximately 90 days if the investigation is closed, Wilkinson said. He added that there has never been a homicide at the University, but if there were, the evidence would be kept forever.

Miner said he estimates approximately one third of collected evidence comes from residence halls and University housing.

“Marijuana would be the highest in those areas,” he said.

Miner said the University evidence room is just like most police stations. The biggest differences, he said, are that the University’s room is smaller and evidence is not stored from violent crimes.

Recovered property, such as laptops and cell phones, is returned to the owners if they can be tracked down, which Wilkinson said he also does.

“I’m amazed at how many people just write off their losses,” he said.

Occasionally cell phones and guns are not destroyed, unlike most evidence. Officers are sometimes granted permission to use confiscated guns for education and training, Wilkinson said. When cell phone owners cannot be tracked down the phones are given to the Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education and passed on to women’s shelters.

“All cell phones can dial the operator or 911 – so they can be used in emergencies,” said Jessica Zakrzewski, student staff member and advocate at the Aurora Center. She said the phones are given to women who are being stalked so they have an emergency phone even if they cannot afford one.

Not all items are held as evidence. Approximately six impounded and unclaimed skateboards rest on one shelf. The University has an ordinance allowing skateboards to be confiscated and held for 24 hours, Wilkinson said, adding that sometimes people never come back for their property.

The evidence room shelves are organized by content. One overflows with drug paraphernalia and another holds labeled bags of fake IDs. Around the corner, guns are stacked in cardboard boxes.

When evidence is slated for destruction, it is first set aside in a special section until enough is collected to warrant a trip to an incinerator in South St. Paul.

After being inventoried by Miner and Wilkinson, the evidence is sealed in a steel drum, driven to a steel mill and dropped into a trolley. After pouring a ton of scrap metal on top, Wilkinson said, it’s all cooked at approximately 3,000 degrees.

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