April 19, 2010 in City

Police department evidence technician has seen – and stored – it all

By The Spokesman-Review

chrisa@spokesman.com Tom Bell of the Spokane Police Department stands amid thousands of pieces of evidence that are tagged and tracked by the property room every year. Bell is the 2009 employee of the year for the Police Department.
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Tom Bell joined the Spokane Police Department 10 years ago. He worked in dispatch, the police fleet and was a community service officer, before joining the property room as an evidence technician in 2006. He and a staff of about seven are charged with storing evidence for criminal cases in Spokane County. The 17,000-square-foot building on West Gardner houses about 170,000 items, and the inventory constantly changes. Bell is the department’s employee of the year for 2009.

Q. What’s the most important aspect of the job?

A. We store evidence and property in safekeeping. We maintain a chain of custody of said property. The integrity of the chain and the physical evidence itself is very important. Every day cases go to court, and it’s the property storage and chain of command that keeps that evidence valid.

Q. What is stored here?

A. We get about 3,000 items a year. Monday’s always the worst because of the weekend. You name it, we get it. This morning (Thursday) we got the kitchen sink in. Anything that can be used as evidence or seized as evidence in a crime is stored here. It’s actually the joy of working here – it’s never the same. It is a 3-D puzzle every day, and the pieces are always changing.

Q. What’s the best part of the job?

A. The best thing is the people I work with. That’s what makes this job so satisfying. The 3-D puzzle keeps it interesting, but it’s the people I work with that keep me getting up every morning and coming in. Not just the people in the office but the heroes in the blue who are out on the line every day.

Q. What do you see the most?

A. Bikes. We easily get a couple hundred bikes in the summers. We’ve had summers where every position was full and stacked two deep. We do auctions every six weeks.

Q. How do changes in crime trends affect property storage?

A. The proliferation of identity theft and forgery has increased our need for storage space for computers. It’s been a pretty marked increase. We’re real happy about the transition to flat screen TVs.

Q. How many items typically come in as evidence in a case?

A. We see two or three items per case, and that’s pretty much stable. But when we get a property crime case, we could see 50 items in with 20 owners. Our detectives work hard to get the stuff back to victims as soon as possible. But it’s not always possible. Evidence in homicide cases is stored permanently. Our cold case homicides have items going back to the ’50s that we’ll probably never get rid of.

Q. How does it feel to be employee of the year?

A. I was extremely honored. I was honored just to be one of the four in the running. In my mind, the heroes are the men and the women who go out there on the front lines every day. We do our best to support them. We all know that the reason we’re here is for the people out there on the street.

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