02/14/10 — Police need more evidence storage

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Police need more evidence storage

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 14, 2010 1:50 AM

The Goldsboro Police Department's pressing need for additional evidence storage space led to a $3 million request from the Fire Department during the City Council's annual retreat.

Fire Chief Gary Whaley spoke on the issue first, explaining to council members his proposed solution to the PD's problem.

"Based off some information I'm sure you're going to receive from the police chief, basically, we're looking at either replacing our headquarters station or expanding," he said.

The idea, he said, is to move the Fire Department, in two phases, to the site of the old CP&L building along Center Street -- a stone's throw away from the current firehouse.

Phase One would involve renovation of the CP&L building -- a roughly $175,000 undertaking -- during the 2012-13 fiscal year. That, he said, would allow his department to move operations across the street and the Police Department to begin moving into what would be the former firehouse.

The following year, a $3 million replacement headquarters would be constructed on the same site, and the Fire Department's move would be complete.

Police Chief Tim Bell said he was not certain whether expanding into the current Fire headquarters -- a move that would give his staff 11,000 more square feet to operate in -- was the best solution to his problem.

But the issue of a lack of evidence storage space is not going away, he said.

And finding a solution is critical.

"Let me just go over some reasoning behind that and the reasoning (Whaley) was talking about moving out of the building and giving (it to) the Police Department," Bell said. "In 2009, our legislators up in Raleigh ... passed a lot of laws. ... a lot of laws we're dealing with at this time. One of them was a new evidence retention law that came into effect Dec. 1."

The legislation has law enforcement officials looking at evidence "in a whole new light" -- particularly biological evidence.

"One of the big things that jumps out is skin tissue. With skin tissue now, with touch DNA, every time you touch something ... you're leaving skin cells," Bell said.

And that means more evidence to collect and preserve.

"When they put skin tissue in (the legislation), it basically means everything could be biological evidence now, which makes storage a big issue," the chief said. "And before this law was passed, when evidence (was) introduced in court it (became) property of the clerk of court. ... So after the case is over with ... it's up to the clerk's office to store that evidence. Well not anymore. That evidence comes back to the agency that originally seized it."

And there are new rules about destroying evidence, too, ones that are much more strict.

"Basically, what this has done, it has stopped everybody from destroying evidence," Bell said.

With all that said, he told council members that the current evidence storage facility is at capacity.

"What I'm telling you is our evidence room is full. We are at max. We basically can't store anything else," he said. "It's a very good evidence room ... and when I helped build this room, I thought it would last a long time. But we are filling it up."

And with a "drastic increase" in the number of pieces of evidence being collected since the new legislation went into effect, the time for a solution is drawing dangerously near.

For the time being, Bell said he and his officers have freed up some room inside the existing department by moving offices around.

"I believe I can get a couple of years out of it. I hope I can," Bell said. "But I'm putting a Band-Aid on a problem that is not going to go away."

And while he acknowledges that there are likely other viable options out there, Whaley's idea, he said, would certainly solve the problem.

"If we had the complete (Police and Fire Complex) ... we could go in one of those bays at the Fire Department and build a state-of-the-art evidence room with rollable shelves from the ceiling to the floor," Bell said. "You could store evidence for a long, long, long, long time ... in one of those bays. But of course the Fire Department would have to get out for me to do that. ... This is just one proposal. I'm sure there are some other options."

Mayor Al King said he wasn't sure what final solution would come to fruition.

But he recognized the need to take action -- whatever that might be -- in the near future.

"You're right on target," he said to Bell. "This is going to be an issue."