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Public Safety

Grand Jury: San Diego Police Need To Improve Evidence Procedures

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The San Diego Police Department's evidence- and property-handling procedures fall short of standards widely maintained by other area law enforcement facilities, according to a report released Monday by the 2014-15 county grand jury.

In its review, the panel also decried a purported lack of communication among the district attorney, city attorney and the SDPD concerning the retention or disposal of evidence. The deficiency at times causes items to be retained after cases are closed, resulting in a need for extra storage space and leading to delays in returning property to its rightful owners.

SDPD officials responded to the findings by asserting that they had made "substantial improvements" in their property and evidence policies over the past year. Those changes included "new management, including but not limited to a more thorough operations manual, written procedures, training confirmations and quality-control inspections," according to the department.

The jury's probe was prompted by published reports concerning the manner in which SDPD personnel maintain evidence in their custody, how it was accounted for and whether property was promptly returned or disposed of when no longer needed, according to county officials.

The thrust of the investigation was to determine if the department made use of procedures to properly handle and store evidence needed for trials and to dispose of it when appropriate.

To improve the situation, the district attorney and San Diego city attorney should work with the police department to develop better communication as to when evidence is no longer needed, the grand jury recommended.

The panel also advised that the SDPD perform a management review based on Peace Officers Standards and Training guidelines to identify weaknesses in property and evidence procedures and to implement corrective action.

Among other problems the grand jury found with the SDPD's so called "Property and Evidence Room" — actually nine facilities housed in the department's downtown headquarters, in part of a converted parking garage and in a leased private warehouse — were:

• an absence of surveillance cameras, a security measure recommended by the POST guide and used by other local police agencies

• "disarray" in the department's weapon-storage area

• a lack of protocols to govern when files are to be reviewed for disposal

• no logbook documenting access to safes

• no annual audit, a security measure also recommended by the POST manual.