ONTARIO, OREGON — Police departments nationwide collect mountains of stuff — some valuable and some trash.
And they have to store all of it somewhere while the cases connected to the objects make their way through the court system.
Ontario Police Department has a newly remodeled evidence room that allows more space for processing evidence and better organization for storing it.
According to Ontario Police Chief Mark Alexander, the department had evidence stored in four different places throughout the city for many years. Several years ago, the department consolidated their evidence into one room at City Hall.
In 2013 a complete remodel of the space began, which included combining two rooms, giving them twice the space they originally occupied. The remodel included replacing the flooring, covering up exposed wires, and painting. Three air conditioners have also been added in order to keep the space cool in the summer and preserve the evidence.
A secure room for drugs and a separate one for guns has been added, with ventilation in the drug room and extra locks to ensure security.
The department also hired a part-time evidence technician in 2013, La Velle Cornwell, to organize and catalogue the evidence.
“So I’ve been here a year and a half and we’ve had to remodel both of these rooms,” Cornwell explained. “So we’ve moved [evidence around] to get them remodeled and painted and now all that’s done so now what I’m trying to do is figure out where to put things.”
Before Cornwell was brought on board, officers have had to process and store their own evidence as it comes in and things became chaotically stacked throughout the space.
“There used to be a scanner out here, so if an officer is out here working and he gets called on a call, he’s got to go,” Cornwell explained. “I can see why it just filled up.”
Now that Cornwell has more space, she’s grouping evidence together by the length of time it must be kept by the department. In the very back of the room, Cornwell has stacked the evidence from murder, rape and other cases that must be kept for a long period of time.
“Evidence from murder cases has to be kept for 70 years,” Cornwell said.
Closer to the front gate is the found property and evidence that has been authorized to return to its owners. Cornwell keeps that on hand for easy access.
Looking forward, Cornwell said the department is planning on getting security cameras, which will provide a safety not only for the evidence, but also for Cornwell.
“If I’m ever accused of taking anything, they will be able to go back and watch the video,” Cornwell explained. “That’s one of the reasons we have all these security measures.”
A new scanner and barcode system is also being put in place for easier retrieval of evidence. Once the system is streamlined, Cornwell will be able to place barcodes on all the pieces of evidence. When she gets a request, she’ll be able to scan them and print out an inventory sheet within minutes.
“It’s a lot of work,” Cornwell said. “That’s all I do, that’s my job. I organize and just try to make sure that I know where everything is and that I can find it.”
Published February 12, 2015 in the Argus Observer.