In Corpus Christi, when a constable elected in 2008 took over he found their evidence room a wreck, with drugs and guns that should have been disposed of (or in the case of some of the guns, returned to their rightful owners) a decade ago or more. Reports the Caller Times ("Precinct 5 constable cleaning evidence room," Jan. 28):
A World War II Japanese bolt-action rifle has been sitting in the Nueces County Precinct 5 constable’s evidence room since at least the early 1990s.
A .45-caliber submachine stolen in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1983 has been in the constable’s small closet gathering dust since 1997.
There is confiscated marijuana, heroine and cocaine, too, some aging for decades on shelves.
Constable Dionicio “Don” Ysassi had enough.
“It’s time for us to clean house,” he said.
The drugs will be burned, and the weapons will be destroyed or returned if the owners claim them.
People have been asking Ysassi about their weapons he may have, some taken during routine traffic stops years ago in the precinct’s 320-square-mile jurisdiction.
There are 140 weapons approved for disposal, Ysassi said Wednesday. Court orders have been obtained to destroy 70 guns. Five others are evidence in pending criminal cases, and 65 have serial numbers cleared by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for people to claim.
“We have worked with the sheriff’s department for weeks to identify weapons not related to any crime,” said Ysassi, who inherited the property room when he took office following the 2008 election. “So people can now come to our office and request them back.”
Those being destroyed may have no serial numbers, have had barrels sawed off or were confirmed stolen by people who no longer want them, said Deputy Larry Thieme, who has researched the weapons’ history the past six months.
Anyone claiming a gun will have a background check to ensure they have no present criminal court action, Ysassi said.
“We just want to do the right thing,” he said, “and get people’s property back to them.”
Needless to say, it's not good to have a bunch of street-ready drugs and guns with serial numbers filed off laying around for years on end when they're not needed for an ongoing prosecution. This was a recurring issue with Texas' old drug task force system. Small, independent agencies with no oversight often have extremely lax management standards regarding evidence retention, and the result was a lack of accountability and frequent thefts of drugs, often in significant amounts.
Charley Wilkison of CLEAT likes to point out that many police unions were originally organized out of the evidence room in their department's basement because an assignment there historically is how departments punish or sideline officers with a history of disciplinary problems, who also happen to be among the most likely to agitate for unionization in order to protect their jobs. Whatever the benefits for unions, though, the public is better served when evidence rooms are run by dedicated, civilian professionals with clear policies and procedures about what should and shouldn't be in the evidence room, when, and why.