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State Audit Finds Police Agencies Losing Cash, Firearms In Their Custody

Renee Bright / KUER

A state audit of seven Utah police departments found flaws in the ways some agencies store evidence with officers losing track of the money, guns, and drugs in their custody.

John Dougall, the state auditor, said he wanted to get a sense of how responsible Utah’s police officers and staff were with the property they seized and stored.

“For a while now, I’ve thought when it came to issues of evidence rooms and property management by police agencies, it might be a good idea to shine a light on what’s taking place there,” he said.

State law dictates that police must keep seized property “in safe custody” and keep “a detailed inventory of all property seized.” But the audit reveals some departments struggled to safeguard their cash, firearms, and controlled substances. Others, said Dougall, appeared to have it under control.

“When it came to property that’s stored in the evidence rooms, we found some agencies seem to be doing a very good job and other agencies have some areas where they need improvement,” said Dougall.

According to the audit, two agencies appeared not to have lost a single item. Another two had lost over 50 items, although auditors couldn’t determine if this was “due to poor recordkeeping, theft, or some other reason.”

Dougall said there was one issue common to all seven agencies. Officers are required by law to issue a receipt whenever they seize property. But, he said, officers were only providing a receipt when they seized property with a warrant.

“In other cases when they take property, they are not always providing that receipt,” said Dougall. “Across our entire sample, that was a weakness.”

Gary Giles, president of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, said he’s not surprised by the audit’s findings.

Despite some “some disturbing numbers,” Giles said, he doesn’t believe the report shows “glowing problem all over the place.” Rather, he believes the report serves as “a good reminder” for agencies to reexamine their evidence rooms.

Giles, who serves as chief of the Orem Police Department, said he plans to push his agency to get better at issuing receipts after seizing property, as the report recommends. Though, he noted, this brings about its own conundrum when it comes to drugs seized during an arrest.

“If you take meth and charge them with possession of meth, do you give that person a receipt for meth?” he said. “That’s the million dollar question.”

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Rebecca Ellis is a Kroc Fellow with NPR. She grew up in New York City and graduated from Brown University in 2018 with a Bachelor's in Urban Studies. In college, Rebecca served as a managing editor at the student newspaper, the Brown Daily Herald, and freelanced for Rhode Island's primary paper, the Providence Journal. She has spent past summers as an investigator at the Bronx Defenders, a public defender's office in the Bronx, New York, and as a reporter at the Miami Herald, filing general assignment stories and learning to scuba dive.
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