Colo. police department's evidence unit blasted

Dick Foster
Rocky Mountain News
Copyright 2006 Denver Publishing Company
COLORADO SPRINGS- The Colorado Springs police evidence unit was a haphazard operation characterized by a disregard for guidelines, a new report on the improper disposal of evidence concludes.

In a 26-page report, City Auditor Jeff Litchfield painted a picture of an evidence locker in disarray, understaffed with poorly trained people who did not follow any system of categorizing evidence by time or type of crime.

His was the second report within a week addressing the department's loss of evidence that may have compromised dozens of criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Evidence in more serious cases such as rapes, homicides, kidnappings and child abuse were mingled with evidence from less serious cases, Litchfield said.

Piling all evidence together runs the risk of losing crucial evidence from serious crimes when items from less serious cases are discarded, the auditor said.

That's exactly what happened when the evidence unit freed up space by disposing of 134,000 items last year, officials confirmed Friday.

A police department audit showed that evidence was improperly disposed of in 553 of 5,014 cases. Of the 553 cases, 478 were inactive or had developed no suspect information.

But the 75 remaining cases included 67 ongoing investigations and eight that had resulted in criminal charges filed by the district attorney's office.

The discarded evidence would have no effect on six of the eight filed cases, the DA's office said. But lost evidence in a $40 forgery case resulted in dismissal of charges, and lost DNA evidence in a 1997 sexual assault case would have a "major effect" on prosecution of the suspect, although he is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence in Canada.

Evidence had also been discarded in six unsolved missing persons cases.

Litchfield's audit report recommended adding staff to the evidence unit, classifying and separating evidence by crime categories, and retaining evidence in more serious crimes. 
June 8, 2006

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