Evidence evident

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Clovis Police Department evidence technician Wendell Blair stands in the evidence room. There are around 18,000 items currently logged in evidence, he said.

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom Newspapers

Bicycles, guns, electronics, clothing — the diversity of items in the small, shelf-lined room is reminiscent of a pawn or thrift shop. Odd-sized items line floor space while tucked neatly in boxes are hundreds of manila envelopes, each tagged and sealed with tape marked “Evidence.”

Clovis Police evidence technician Wendell Blair is intimately familiar with the organized mess. Staring up and down the shelves, he talks of a day when he might have more space or sliding shelves to accommodate the items that consume every inch of the 750-square-foot room.

Give him a case number and he vows he can find what you need in minutes.

“Names do not do me any good, but give me a number and I can tell you where it is,” Blair said.

The word “purge” falls frequently into conversation as the retired Army helicopter pilot discusses his constant struggle to stay ahead of the ever-growing collection.

His first priority is to preserve evidence and its integrity for prosecution, but once an item is no longer needed, he wants to find a way to get it out of the evidence room — either returned to its rightful owner or destroyed.

“Anything we can rightfully return to the owner, we make every effort to do that,” the 51-year-old said.
That’s especially true in the case of a victim’s property.

“We don’t want to victimize the victim yet again by holding on to their stuff,” he said.

Evidence technician for eight years, Blair said getting items cleared for destruction is critical to staying in control of the constant influx. In the last couple years, Blair said purging has become a priority.

“We were to the point we were just out of space,” he said.

“We just stepped it up, we didn’t have a choice.”

Blair said more evidence has been purged in the last year than in the previous three years combined.

How it works
1. An officer fills out an evidence sheet for the case, identifying the evidence, case details and if it needs to be sent to the lab for testing. The officer also tags the items so they correspond with the sheet.
2. The officer places the items in one of 23 wooden lockers in the department’s briefing room. Locking the barrel lock, he places the sheet and key into a drop-box.
3. Evidence technician Wendell Blair retrieves the items each morning, loading them onto a wheeled cart and takes them to evidence where he sorts and logs the items in.

By the numbers
18,000 — Approximate number of items in evidence
750 — Square feet of space in the evidence room
120 — Average number of new cases with evidence per month
23 — Evidence lockers used for temporary storage until evidence can be logged
3 — Keys to the evidence room
1 — Evidence technician on staff

Big and small of it
Smallest item — Bullet fragment
Largest item — Twin-size bed

Food for thought
Unusual items include:
Two gallons of milk: Wendell Blair said he returned from a four-day weekend to discover an officer had logged the dairy products as evidence in a shoplifting case — unrefrigerated. Food and beverage items are now photographed whenever possible to avoid storage difficulties.
A half-eaten burrito: Turned in for a shoplifting case, the officer hoping the suspect’s DNA could be retrieved. The burrito was determined not to be of evidentiary value because of spoilage.

How many items destroyed?
2004 — 1,985 evidence items from 885 cases
2005 — 1,576 evidence items from 455 cases
2006 — 1,696 evidence items from 654 cases
2007 — 4,912 evidence items from 1,708 cases

Log the dog
Live animals can be logged as evidence, although they are housed at the animal shelter for the duration of their evidentiary value. An example: dogs used in criminal dog fighting.

What’s evidence?

A glimpse in the CPD evidence room reveals:
• Guns
• Knives
• Drugs and paraphernalia (There’s a room off the main evidence room the size of a walk-in closet dedicated to these items. Items number in the thousands.)
• Bubble gum machine complete with gumballs
• Vacuum cleaners
• Fishing poles
• Pool tables
• Big screen televisions
• Newspaper racks
• Bicycles
• Street signs
• Money
• Articles of clothing
• Jewelry

Rocks: Take a picture, please
Blair said it took a long time to convince newer officers they did not need to turn in rocks from criminal damage cases. Because rocks are difficult to store and practically valueless in investigation, Blair said officers now photograph rocks when needed instead of tagging them and turning them in. Exception: a rock used in violent crime against a person.