MANCHESTER - Evidence piles up at the Manchester Police Department. “It's easier to take in than get rid of it,” said Sgt. Stephen Reardon.
The storage area is stuffed with such items as jewelry, guns, barrels of copper and manhole covers, tools, baseball bats, car stereos and just about anything else you can imagine.
The problem should ease considerably now that the department has contracted with Property Room, an online auction service that contracts with law enforcement and other municipal agencies.
Reardon, who is in charge of preparing to move what sometimes seems like mountains of seized or found property from the building at 351 Chesnut St. to the new police headquarters on Valley Street, said the online auction service will be a great help.
Taking to the new building what needs to be kept, while maintaining the chain of evidence, is a major project, said Reardon. “We take in evidence at a huge rate. Documents, photographs, lots of things.” If a backpack full of apparently stolen property is brought in, each item has to be catalogued. “Sometimes they'll be doing this all night long,” he said.
Thanks to the new contract with Property Room, said Reardon, there won't be as much to move to the new building as there could have been.
Reardon said evidence has to be kept while a case is pending, but after the city solicitor's office and the county attorney's office notify the police department that cases have been adjudicated and evidence is no longer needed, “then we can start disposing.”
It's not always quick or easy. Efforts are made to return items to their owners, but sometimes they aren't wanted, like a broken windshield. Sometimes the owners can't be found or aren't in a position to take back the items, but Reardon said the property technicians spend a lot of time on the phone trying to reunite owners with their property.
Reardon said that under state law, found property worth less than $250 has to be auctioned off after 90 days if it can't be returned to the owner. If it is worth more than $250, auctioning it off is mandated after 180 days.
There are exceptions: “We don't auction guns and no body armor,” said Reardon. Drugs and money are also off the table, but anything else salable is fair game.
The Property Room auction site is open to the public and features items from police departments and municipal agencies across the country. While most auction items come from those sources, the company also offers items from what it calls “trusted merchants.”
Working with the auction company, which was started in 1999 by retired police officers, speeds up the disposal process.
Until now, said Reardon, the Manchester Police Department put its auctionable items in the May state property auction conducted in Concord. “We were retaining all of this stuff,” he said, and had to find storage space while waiting for the annual auction,
When it was time to transport items to the auction, Reardon said: “We had to rent a U-Haul for the bicycles. We are like the bicycle repository of New Hampshire.”
No more. The Property Room representatives travel a route and make regular pickups of items from the Manchester Police Department that will be taken to New York for processing and sale. “They will come on a monthly basis,” said Reardon.
There are five other processing centers and warehouses in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Orlando and Seattle. While most items are shipped, a few, such as vehicles or major machinery, have to be picked up at the originating location.
Reardon said the company provides a certain amount of security for buyers. “They are pretty discerning,” said Reardon. “They have appraisers,” said Reardon. As a result, if the description says it's a diamond ring, a buyer won't learn too late that the stone is a cubic zirconia. If it's a cubic zirconia, it will say so right on the auction site.
“They're not going to refurbish, but will make the item more salable,” said Reardon. Descriptions of electronics and computers leave no doubt about the condition, or missing parts, like a battery. Some phones come with the warning about being locked or only usable on a certain network.
Reardon said the items the auction company takes are bar coded and catalogued and their sale progress tracked. The split between Property Room and a police department or other municipal agency is on a sliding scale that can send anywhere from 50 to 87.5 percent back to the agency. It depends on the final sale of the item and also on the specific agreement with the community agency.
For example, said Reardon, if a Manchester item sold for $1,500, the department would get half of the first $1,000 and 75 percent of the remaining $500.
The auction site is open to anyone for bidding at www.propertyroom.com.