Each month, IAPE's primary instructor, Joe Latta, answers one of your questions. Consider writing us if you have a question that needs an answer. We would love to hear from you.
I work for a police department in the northeast part of the country. The town is looking to civilianize my position. Do you know how I can find out if and where other departments use civilians to run their evidence rooms?
Dear Nancy NoCop,
This is strictly a regional issue. In California finding a sworn officer in the property room is an anomaly as the vast majority are civilians and it has been that way for twenty five years or more. This is also true for most of the country and Canada. When you visit the northeast the opposite is true. It might be labor issues and in some cases, "this is the way we have always done it".
Seventy-five percent of IAPE Members come from the civilian ranks. The exceptions to the rule could be in a small department where the property room is a two hour a week responsibility and is an ancillary duty to working patrol or investigations. When you look at federal agencies (State Department, Secret Service, FBI, etc., it is generally a civilian job.
Generally speaking, sworn officer are not as interested in a working a property room, as they are more interested in the enforcement side of the equation. Secondly, it is not unusual to pay civilian evidence custodians half the wage of a tenured officer. Think about it... Generally, the only thing we don't have enough of in the property room is TIME. If I, as a police chief, can get 80 hours of coverage in the property room for the same budget dollar, I'm way ahead. In some cases, Chiefs are not comfortable with civilian guarding their evidence, when in fact, stats show significantly more of the integrity issues have been committed by sworn officers than civilian employees. If I were a chief and interested in being financially responsible to the community, I would always consider a civilian to operate my property room. As another resource, IAPE standards are listed below:
IAPE STANDARDS SECTION 1
Standard 1.1: Staffing - Job Classification
Property unit personnel should have a job classification title that matches the duties and responsibilities performed by that person. This may be a sworn or civilian position.
: Job classification refers to the name or title of the position that performs the property officer's duties.
Peace officer powers are generally not required to perform the property officer duties of receiving, storing, and disposing of property and evidence. The same applies to supervisors or managers of the property and evidence room. Using civilians generally lowers the cost to perform the duties; however, using a sworn position may permit retaining sworn personnel with permanent disabilities that don't impact their ability to perform the property officer's duties.
Headline of the Month
In May of 2016, a story was reported in a local newspapers regarding the suicide of long tenured police officer in Braintree Ma. Flash back several weeks we learn that an audit of the property room had occurred and the property officer had been interviewed and shortly later committed suicide. Flash forward - as the audit continued / internal investigation we learn that there was over $400,000, guns and drugs. Since the investigation commenced, there have been dozens of news stories about the departments management of the evidence, sloppy practices, 14-year old policies, non existent inventories, audits and inspections and total lack of supervisor and management over sight. The following several pages are the high lights of this investigation along with the early resignation of the chief.
Watch the reputation of a department slip from the graces of the community.
August 31 2016
BRAINTREE, Mass. -Thousands of criminal cases are now under review at the Norfolk District Attorney's office after an audit found the Braintree Police Department's evidence room was in disarray, with evidence unaccounted for in cases dating back to 2013.
Missing Braintree Police Evidence Found in Officer's Home
September 9, 2016
BRAINTREE, MA - Two guns missing from the Braintree Police Department's evidence room were in the home of the person in charge of the room, a new report said.
that of the eight firearms unaccounted for, two of them were located at the home of Officer Susan Zopatti, who was in charge of the room until her death in May. One of the guns belongs to Michael Flemmi, a former Boston police officer who served time in prison for hiding guns for his brother, mobster Stephen Flemmi, and mob boss Whitey Bulger.
Heat-sealed evidence bags were broken into, some narcotics evidence was replaced with other drugs. and rape kits were being stored in an outside trailer, according to the news station.
In August, it was reported that an outside investigator was being brought in to audit the police department's evidence room. The audit is focused on cases from the past three years and has reportedly found that in addition to the weapons, over $70,000 in cash and 1,000 pieces of drug evidence are missing.
Mayor Joseph Sullivan said some of the evidence has been found. A report is expected to be released at the end of the investigation.
Guns missing from Braintree PD evidence room found in officer's home
September 8 2016
A recent audit of the department found the missing evidence involved criminal cases dating back to 1999, but the Norfolk County District Attorney's office is focusing on cases from 2013 to the present.
5 Investigates has learned the audit reveals that in those years more than 1,000 pieces of drug evidence, more than $70,000 in seized cash, and eight firearms are unaccounted for.
Sources told 5 Investigates two other guns missing from the evidence room were found at the Braintree home of Officer Susan Zopatti, who was in charge of the evidence room and the only person who had access to that room during the years in question.One of those guns belonged to Michael Flemmi, the former Boston police officer who served time in federal prison for hiding guns for his brother, gangster Stephen Flemmi, and mob boss Whitey Bulger. Officer Zopatti took her own life in May. "For every case that's come out of a Braintree police arrest, it creates a very significant potential problem," said WCVB legal analyst Martha Coakley.
Records suggest Braintree police weren't following evidence policy in 2013
September 14, 2016
BRAINTREE - Three years before officials discovered missing drugs and other problems in the Braintree police evidence room, a member of the force filled out a survey indicating that the department was not following even the most basic practices that police across the country use to ensure that evidence is not tainted, lost or stolen while in their custody.
Whoever filled out the survey, which was included in hundreds of pages of training documents provided in response to a Patriot Ledger public records request, also indicated that the department did not have a written policy for property management, even though a policy had been in place for more than a decade at that time. The survey suggests that the staff in the department's property room was following few of the requirements of that policy, which was issued by now-retired Chief Paul Frazier. (Note: member of department had
attended an IAPE class in 2013.
The town released the document earlier this week as it was completing an audit - expected to be released later today - that officials say could upend hundreds of criminal cases, including some that have already been dismissed. Town officials have also come under scrutiny for how soon they disclosed information about the department's mishandling of evidence after discovering the problems in May.
A person with direct knowledge of the investigation said it began around the same time that Susan Zopatti, the police officer charged with overseeing the property room, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Officials hired an outside firm to conduct an audit in June and District Attorney Michael Morrissey said this week that his office has already begun vetting about 3,000 Braintree cases from the period between June 2013 and May 2016, including 200 to 400 that will require a "hard look."
After first reporting on the audit last month, the Patriot Ledger requested copies of the department's policies, manuals and training documents related to evidence handling at the Braintree police station. The town provided hundreds of pages of documents in response, including several digital files on a CD and a 17-page policy on evidence handling.
included in a stack of slide shows and other handouts from a two-day class held in 2013 by the International Association for Property and Evidence was a survey with 21 questions about department practices on evidence and property.
Whoever filled out the survey - it doesn't say - wrote down "X" marks indicating "no" next to 11 of the practices.
The survey suggests that the department was not conducting annual inventories of property and evidence; that it did not store firearms in a separate facility; that it allowed people other than designated property custodians into the property room; that it did not did not keep track of how much money was stored in the property room; and that the room did not have an alarm monitored 24 hours a day.
Many of those practices would have been required under the department's evidence policy, which was issued more than a decade earlier in April 2002. The policy requires that guns be stored separate from other evidence, that cash be counted and itemized by denomination, and that a full inventory be conducted annually.
DEDHAM - Prosecutors have dropped drug charges against five defendants amid an investigation into missing evidence from the Braintree Police Department that could upend hundreds more cases. During a brief hearing in Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham on Tuesday prosecutors dropped cocaine trafficking charges against two people after 29 grams of cocaine that police said was found inside their vehicle went missing.
Braintree police audit shows $407,998 and 60 guns missing from evidence room
September 14 2016
BRAINTREE - An audit of the Braintree Police Department's evidence room found thousands of items - including drugs, cash and guns - missing or unaccounted for, and sloppy record-keeping.Town officials released the audit report at a press conference Wednesday.
Problems with evidence have already caused prosecutors to drop charges in a half-dozen Braintree cases and could result in hundreds of additional cases being dismissed.The audit found that 4,709 pieces of narcotics evidence could not be accounted for, and that 38 pieces had been compromised - having been opened, left unpackaged or found to have items missing. The audit report describes much of the missing drugs as "bags of cocaine."
BRAINTREE - The picture painted by the audit of the Braintree evidence room is grim: money envelopes torn open, their contents gone; property left on the floor despite empty shelves; and haphazard records that gave no clues to the whereabouts of large quantities of missing guns, drugs and cash.
But the Braintree police are not alone.
In Framingham, police last year launched an investigation into money missing from the police department's evidence room after cash envelopes were discovered in the car of an officer who had been charged with overseeing the room. And outside Massachusetts, authorities are investigating missing cash and drugs in police and sheriff's evidence rooms in Missouri, Indiana, New Mexico and Washington State, to name a few.
More cases thrown out due to investigation into Braintree Police evidence room
September 19, 2016
BRAINTREE, MA (WHDH) - More cases involving drug charges are being thrown out in Braintree after an investigation into the police department's evidence room.
So far, 15 cases have been dismissed and many more are expected after hundreds of cases have been reopened. A recent audit of the police department's evidence room revealed that thousands of pieces of evidence are missing, including drugs and $500,000 in cash.
"It's really surprising and I'm really disappointed in the police department for allowing this to happen," said defense attorney Otto Santana. "And of course that puts in jeopardy the innocence or guilt of many defendants."
The investigation began back in May. Sources tell 7News the officer in charge of the evidence room committed suicide and some of the missing guns were found in her house
22 cases upended by Braintree police evidence handling issues
September 19, 2016
The number of defendants who have had criminal charges or whole cases tossed out because of evidence handling issues at the Braintree Police Department reached 22 on Tuesday, double what it was by the end of last week.
The 11 cases at least partially dismissed over the last two days included that of Eber J. Soto-Gomez, a 32-year-old drug trafficking suspect facing charges in two counties. Soto-Gomez, had several drug charges from 2010 dismissed Monday as he was arraigned on a new set of charges based on the discovery of more than 3 pounds of cocaine and heroin and $31,000 in cash during raids in Randolph last month.
District Attorney Michael Morrissey has said his office has notified about 200 lawyers that their clients' cases could be tied to evidence that was tainted while in custody of the Braintree police. David Traub, a spokesman for the district attorney, said two of those defendants came into Quincy District Court on their own Monday and had their cases dismissed.
5 Investigates learned Wednesday Chief Russell Jenkins, who has served as chief for the past four years, will retire Oct. 7. Jenkins has been on the department for more than 30 years.
Several criminal cases have already been dropped by the Norfolk County District Attorney's office because drug evidence was missing or compromised. Hundreds are expected to be impacted.
The officer in charge of the evidence room took her own life in May. We've learned in an email Jenkins told his department that he would have preferred to stay to oversee the implementations of the recommendations from the auditor.
He added: "It has been my very great honor and privilege to serve as chief for the past four years and to have worked with so many outstanding individuals over the years."
Braintree police chief suggests forced retirement
September 26, 2016
BRAINTREE - Police Chief Russell Jenkins has suggested he was forced into retirement by Mayor Joseph Sullivan. In an email to his officers Wednesday night, Jenkins said he wanted to stay on to resolve the scandal involving missing evidence stored at the police station. He made similar comments in a post on the website NextDoor Braintree on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, he submitted his two-sentence resignation letter to Sullivan."Clearly, this is not the way I wanted to end my career, but the mayor wants new leadership and I serve at his pleasure," Jenkins wrote in an email to the department's officers and civilian employees.
Braintree deputy police chief is placed on leave in evidence room scandal
September 27, 2016
Braintree's deputy police chief was placed on leave Monday amid continued fallout from a department evidence room scandal that has forced prosecutors to drop dozens of criminal cases. Mayor Joseph C. Sullivan placed Wayne Foster on paid administrative leave over questions related to "the handling of the [now-deceased] evidence room officer" at the center of the scandal, according to Foster's lawyer, David L. Hinds.
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