SDPD’s evidence integrity spiked by water leaks

Cops’ property rooms leaking, unpoliced, costly, city auditor finds

More than a year after the county grand jury called out San Diego police for critical lapses in handling the department's property and evidence storage units, major issues remain, with evidence integrity threatened by water leaks and failure to house a permanent storage facility on city-owned property, says a July 20, 2016, report by city auditor Eduardo Luna.

The department’s main storage facility is located at police headquarters downtown. "Part of this facility was converted from its former use as a parking garage and does not appear to meet building codes for an indoor workplace," said the grand jury’s July 1, 2015, critique.

In addition, the grand jury noted, "SDPD has a temporary warehouse facility leased from a private owner. Temporary rental of privately owned space will require multiple moves of property/evidence, significant staff time to preserve chain of custody safeguards, and added security for the facility. The Grand Jury believes this is a waste of taxpayer money."

The latest city audit of the problems found that not too much has changed.

"During a walkthrough of the Property Unit’s leased warehouse space, which is separate from SDPD’s Headquarters building, we observed that the roof, including a skylight, appeared to be in poor condition," according to the Luna report. “We also observed indications that water can leak into the facility from the roof. This may affect the department’s ability to ensure the integrity of items stored in the facility....

"As a precaution, Property Unit staff had placed a tarp over a shelving unit containing evidence bins. We also observed standing water on the floor of the facility. Property Unit management explained that the standing water is runoff from a business located in a neighboring warehouse, and that they have notified the property owner of the problem."'

As for the grand jury's 2015 finding that the police headquarters storage unit did not appear to be up to city building codes, Luna concluded that the police department has "not conducted a formal assessment of the Headquarters property and evidence room facility addition to ensure it meets building code standards."

On the plus side...

On the plus side...

Noted the auditor, "The Grand Jury identified program management concerns related to security, employee training, and quality assurance practices. The Grand Jury also reported that poor communication between SDPD, the custodian of evidence, and the San Diego Office of the City Attorney and the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the prosecutorial bodies, hindered SDPD’s ability to dispose of and release evidence in a timely manner."

According to Luna's report, only two of the grand jury's five recommendations to rectify the situation have been fully implemented by the city, leaving the integrity of criminal evidence at risk.

On the plus side, "The Property Unit has installed security cameras, and now uses logbooks to document when visitors access the property and evidence room, and to document when staff access safes," said the report. "Property Unit managers have also obtained professional certifications for property and evidence management."

In addition, "Property Unit staff placed cameras in locations that ensure coverage of entrances and exits, safes, gun rooms, the property auction area, and the property disposal area."

But serious gaps remain.

"The Property Unit does not conduct routine inspections of property and evidence facilities," according to the Luna report. Additionally, "no office outside of the Property Unit is conducting quality assurance reviews or audits of property and evidence operations."

Says the audit, "The Chief of Police should direct an appropriate office which does not have responsibilities in the Property Unit to conduct regular quality assurance audits of Property Unit operations. The reviews should assess the systems in place to locate, track, and account for impounded items in SDPD custody."

In its 2015 report, the grand jury recommended that the police department "determine the amount of space needed for permanent Property and Evidence Room storage and work with the San Diego Mayor and City Council to build new facilities or relocate into existing city owned property."

But, noted the Luna report, that hasn't happened.

"The Grand Jury determined in its report that use of a temporary warehouse facility leased from a private owner is an inefficient use of taxpayer money. SDPD has identified three potential City owned sites since 2007. However, an SDPD manager responsible for facilities management explained that the department suspended those plans due to either budget concerns or City Council concerns. SDPD is not currently pursuing a City owned site to expand the property and evidence room, but plans to lease an additional storage site that will meet the long term needs of the department."

The auditor called for "a formal plan for obtaining a property and evidence storage site that will meet long term operational needs. The plan should include the department’s square footage, design, security, and staff safety requirements for the facility. The plan should also assess the benefits of using a City owned site compared to leasing a private facility."

Meanwhile, "To ensure the Headquarters property and evidence room facility addition complies with applicable building codes, SDPD should ensure it has obtained required permits and inspections for the facility addition project.”

And, "SDPD, in consultation with the Real Estate Assets Department, should direct the warehouse owner to address water damage risks at SDPD’s leased warehouse.”

A July 20 response to Luna's audit from assistant police chief Albert Guaderrama agreed with most of the findings, saying, "The gun room is to be fully inventoried every six months and subject to random inventories. The inventory results will be included in the quarterly management reports. The Property Unit will conduct separate random audits from the employee quality control audits. Those will be included in the quarterly management reports, which will be forwarded directly to the Chief of Police or designee."

But regarding the future of the leased property room and Luna's call for a formal relocation plan, Guaderrma wrote, "The Department has been working with [city Real Estate Assets Department] on identifying sites that meet the operational needs of the PD/Property Room. According to [Real Estate Assets] staff, at this time, there are no suitable city-owned sites available for this purpose. We have identified a site that will meet our needs and [Real Estate Assets] staff is currently negotiating with the property owner."

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Maybe the SDPD needs an intervention by former Real Estate Assets employee turned lobbyist/realtor and developer's representative Marcella Escobar-Eck to obtain a secure and leak-free site for the City's stored evidence. It's stuff that can be central to prosecution of criminal matters, so maybe hiring a knowledgeable high-priced consultant can get the job done.

Marcela Escobar-Eck may be a realtor, but is not a Realtor (member of the California Association of Realtors). ;-)

Failure to properly store and protect the chain of custody of evidence is a defense attorney's dream. Degraded or lost evidence is the fault of management. Evidence storage is the bastard child of any police department.

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