The Atwater Police Department’s evidence room was under audit by the California Department of Justice, and the results were released Friday.
The audit was first requested by the City of Atwater, and completed in response to a smaller audit by the Merced County Sheriff’s Office in Febuary 2018.
The initial audit found irregularities: A disorganized evidence room, and unaccounted for cash and weapons, according to a news release.
In August 2018, a bigger audit was conducted by DOJ special agents, employees of the Merced County and Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.
“All money and weapons that were in the evidence room were counted or accounted for, and all cash deposits made from the evidence room to city accounts were verified or investigated. The audit, both on site and off site, took approximately 3 weeks,” a news release read.
However, there was an issue with how evidence was handled, and they are outlined below:
1. A systemic failure on the part of successive administrations to create policies for the proper running of a police department evidence room, evidenced by:
a. Lack of a written policy to operate a property room
b. Access to the property room was not controlled, numerous employees over the past decade had access to the evidence room
c. Lack of training for evidence room personnel
i. Most employees had access to a limited online course on property and evidence procedures and the proper operation of an evidence room
d. Lack of planning and oversight of the evidence room
i. The space was inadequate based on personnel’s lack of training to adequately purge evidence that is no longer needed
1. Evidenced by the chaotic nature of the evidence room when the Merced Sheriff conducted the spot audit in February 2108
e. Improper storage and accountability of money
i. The safe used for money was not secured and no one had the combination
ii. Counterfeit currency was booked into evidence as “paper money” or other descriptions and was accounted for as US currency
iii. When funds were deposited into the City’s General Fund, the moneys were co-mingled into the deposit, thereby making them unaccounted for individually
f. Lack of consistent auditing and destruction of evidence
i. Items listed as “destroyed” were found in the evidence room
ii. Items that were listed as being in the evidence room were found to be destroyed or returned to the owner
iii. Items listed as being stored in the main evidence room were actually stored at the evidence room annex, or visa-versa
g. Lack of proper reporting and booking procedures by police officers
i. No “chain of custody” documents existed to show proper transfer of evidence
ii. There was no “evidence” section on police reports, making it difficult to determine why the evidence was seized, from whom, and the purpose for it’s seizure
h. Lack of any reasonable security of the evidence room
i. The key being used was not a “do not duplicate” type of key, it was unknown how many and who had keys
ii. The evidence room did not have alarm and access control that would indicate who accessed the evidence room, and the times and dates
iii. No access control list was present that employees would use to sign in and out of when they accessed the evidence room
iv. The evidence room annex was located in a building that was co-located with a non-profit. The wall separating the uses was not the type needed to properly secure the evidence room portion from unauthorized access. The building was alarmed with a non-monitored audible alarm.
i. Lack of proper oversight and management of evidence room
i. When audited in February 2818, the room was so cluttered that it was impossible to access the room without planning to move numerous items to make a path to access the rear of the room
ii. Lack of access restrictions and controls of the evidence room
iii. Lack of scheduled destruction of items that we either no longer of evidentiary value or items that no longer need to be retained by APD.
The audit identified a “grossly mismanaged evidence room, poorly and improperly trained evidence room personnel, a lack of evidence room security, and poor evidence accounting and destruction procedures.”
The DOJ says the systemic failures above would make it extremely difficult to determine if criminal conduct did occur.
The Atwater Police Department released a statement in response:
The Atwater Police Department is extremely concerned about the contents of the report and are taking steps to remedy the situation. Projects are being designed to remedy training, equipment and infrastructure issues listed in the report. These projects are funded from a variety of general fund and grant sources. Chief Salvador expects to see results in the very near future.