racks of recovered bicycles are strored in a locked yard at the police station. (photo by tom dorsey / salina journal) | buy journal photos


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lockers that are used by police officers to store evidence.(photo by tom dorsey / salina journal)

barry plunkett unlocks a storage area where recovered items are stored. (photo by tom dorsey / salina journal)

behind bars


by erin mathews salina journal

they are summer’s equivalent to the robins that herald the arrival of spring: the stolen and found bicycles that begin filling the outdoor storage facility at the salina police department.

every year, from 100 to 120 bicycles eventually end up in the custody of the police, said evidence technician barry plunkett. bikes are picked up all year round, but they begin arriving with frequency in the summer.

“it slows down a lot in the winter time, but we still get a few,” plunkett said. “normally, we pick them up because we’ve gotten calls. someone says, ‘there’s a bike here in my yard or in the weeds, and i don’t know whose it is.’ ”

the bikes find a new home in the overhead and ground-level racks in the secured outdoor storage facility flanked by the police department and the saline county jail.

there they are kept for six months along with a few stray yard ornaments unless the owners come to claim them. if the owner hasn’t showed up after two months, the finder can become the keeper, he said.

bike owners who took advantage of the police department’s bike registration program and have their bike’s serial number on file are notified as soon as the bike is found, he said.

bikes and other items of found property that have been unclaimed for six months get loaded in a truck that picks up property to be auctioned online at www.property room.com, plunkett said.

auctions now on the web

about two years ago, the salina police department quit organizing its own auctions and became one of about 1,500 public agencies across the nation utilizing the website founded by former police officers to auction off stolen, seized, found and surplus goods.

the online system is more convenient and cost-effective, plunkett said.

with this system, the department no longer has to pay for an auctioneer, advertising and the manpower to organize auctions, which used to be once or twice a year.

plus, the items being sold tend to bring in more money from the much larger pool of bidders. many of the bikes being auctioned on the site recently were selling for more than $100 plus shipping. the police department splits the profits 50-50 with the website, plunkett said.

evidence that goes boom!

another sure sign of summer for evidence technicians is the exploded and unused fireworks officers collect when they ticket someone for illegal use of fireworks in the city limits. they are maintained in an off-site storage facility until the department receives a court order to destroy them, plunkett said.

other items that find their way into the custody of the police evidence technicians may have a lengthier stay and a more serious purpose. evidence collected at crime scenes is maintained in the department’s interior evidence and property room.

physical evidence is the backbone of any legal case, said saline county attorney ellen mitchell.

“we love video tape,” she said.

a system to keep track of evidence and ensure that it can’t be tampered with is critical, she added.

access is limited to the secured area inside the police department where evidence for unsolved cases and pending court cases is carefully maintained and preserved in sealed bags under lock and key.

only a few can enter

only a few authorized individuals are allowed past the counter. most of the department’s uniformed officers have never entered the evidence area in what used to be the city jail on the main floor of the building.

being a salina journal reporter wasn’t credentials enough to get past the blue lockers where police place evidence they collect, dropping the locker key into a locker that only the evidence technicians can open.

those who have access to the room include plunkett, evidence technician ron styles — both retired police officers who are now employed as civilians — and investigator irvin augustine, evidence-property room manager.

if a defense attorney needs to see the state’s evidence to prepare a case, the items are brought to a viewing room under an evidence technician’s supervision, with the approval of the prosecutor’s office, plunkett said.

plunkett said the old jail cell doors remained in place, and the areas where inmates used to stay are now filled with shelving for evidence. an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 items from pending and unsolved cases are housed there, he said.

a state-of-the-art van

in many instances, evidence technicians go to the scene of a crime to personally collect pieces of evidence that may be introduced in court months later.

they arrive in the department’s crime scene investigation van, a state-of-the-art mobile crime scene laboratory. the van is stocked with supplies for taking fingerprints, making plaster casts, collecting blood samples and testing for gun residue.

evidence technicians are regularly subpoenaed to testify in saline county district court or salina municipal court about the chain of custody of evidence before it is presented to a jury or a judge.

on the witness stand, they verify that the items presented in court are in their original condition, or they have documentation showing a piece of evidence’s submission to the kansas bureau of investigation lab for testing. there, swatches may have been cut or other changes made as the result of dna or other testing.

entries on evidence custody sheets establish the chain of custody to prove that each item of evidence was not tampered with on the way to or from the lab, whether it was sent by certified mail or personally delivered to the lab by one of the evidence technicians.

once the evidence becomes part of a court proceeding, it is moved to the district court evidence room where it becomes part of the records maintained by court clerk theresa leuth. kansas supreme court rules dictate that evidence must be kept for 60 days after a defendant’s sentence and post-release supervision is completed, unless a judge issues an earlier destruction order that is uncontested.

cash taken from the room

last year, leuth said destruction orders were prepared and carried out on evidence from many old cases to free up room for current items.

since a break-in occurred in the early 1990s, leuth said, procedures were changed and a new security system installed. she said she and other court employees were interviewed by investigators at the time, but she does not remember if a suspect was found in the theft of some cash from the room.

since that time, cash, weapons and illegal drugs are no longer maintained in the court evidence room, she said. those items are returned to the police department. neither place houses hazardous materials involved in the manufacture of methamphetamines or other illegal drugs.

those items are photographed and then picked up for destruction by one of a number of private contractors that follow environmental protection agency regulations to dispose of hazardous materials. hannah furbeck, deputy director of saline county emergency management, said the county receives federal funding to pay for those services.

n reporter erin mathews can be reached at 822-1415 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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