The candlestick in the library gets a bar code
SILVERTHORNE – Leslie Burton is using bar codes to help put criminals behind bars.
The Silverthorne Police Department’s evidence technician is still ironing out the bugs of a new system intended to simplify the way the agency stores and tracks evidence. Thanks to a $10,000 federal grant, the department is cataloguing its evidence using bar-coded labels and computer software.
The handling of evidence is crucial in convicting criminals in court. Police departments typically keep evidence – everything from weapons, plaster casts of footprints and photographs, to stolen property and drugs – in secure storage areas. Access to the evidence is restricted to a few key personnel, usually technicians and detectives, in order to limit the possibility that defendants can claim evidence was tampered with or improperly collected.
Silverthorne’s evidence storage area regularly holds about 800 items (not including weapons, drugs or money, which are stored in a separate area). All of the items must be packaged carefully and stored so detectives or prosecutors can find them when a case goes to trial.
Burton said the new system will make work much easier.
“This will make the job a lot easier as far as audits and purging goes,” Burton said. “We regularly do audits to make sure we’re doing the job right. And if we didn’t go through and check for statutes of limitations, evidence would pile up quickly – so we purge it.”
By using a hand-held scanner similar to ones used at grocery and retail stores, Burton can scan an item and access a computer file that lists the item’s history, from arrest to the storeroom. Silverthorne Detective Rusty Lashley said the system will consolidate the amount of paperwork formerly required and make it easier to find evidence on the shelves.
“Right now, everything is so spread out,” Lashley said. “You have to look at several sheets of paper just to find one thing.”
The evidence room contains odd items whose locations no one seems to forget, however. Silverthorne’s storeroom currently houses two swords hidden inside canes, a grill found on the interstate, a meat smoker and a keg with a tap. Most items, though, sit in nondescript paper bags and plastic wrapping.
“This is really the future of evidence,” said Sgt. Mark Beluscak.
Breckenridge’s police department uses a similar system, but Summit County’s other agencies use paperwork and humans to track evidence.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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