Auctioned police evidence profits Loveland’s general fund

June 15, 2016 GMT

LOVELAND — Every 30 days Loveland police evidence technician Margaret O’Brien cleans house.

She gathers unclaimed items and evidence the department is holding and gets the items ready to be picked up and sold in an online auction.

“Usually I make the determination on whether it’s going to be auctioned,” O’Brien said. “I determine what the item’s value is. If it’s trash, we just dispose of it.”

O’Brien added that items such as seized guns and drugs are destroyed — the drugs are incinerated at Denver International Airport and the guns are cut up two to three times a year, with as many as 40 guns destroyed at a time

“We also don’t send anything that is electronic that could contain any personal information,” O’Brien said. “We always destroy that — we can’t guarantee what’s on it and we don’t have time to clean it up or check it.”

The majority of the items O’Brien said she sends off to be auctioned are unclaimed bicycles.

“It’s amazing how many bikes we get and how very few get claimed,” Stephanie Jackson, Loveland Police Department criminalist, said.

The department’s policy requires O’Brien hold the unclaimed bicycles for 30 days before sending them to be auctioned.

“The problem is people don’t write down their serial number,” O’Brien said. “And so they don’t know what their serial number is so it doesn’t get reported. And when the officers come upon a bike or one gets turned in they always run it — to see if the serial number comes back as stolen. Well, it was never reported. So, probably, most of those bikes are stolen we just don’t know it.”

O’Brien said she has returned two bikes to their owners in the four years she has worked in the evidence room at the Loveland Police Department.

“Those two actually had their serial number,” O’Brien said. “One of them even had a picture of them standing next to the bike. I said, ‘Oh, that’s your bike.’ But most people don’t even think to come here and look to see if we have their bike.”

The rest of those bicycles are picked up by a third-party company called propertyroom.com, a company that travels to various police departments across the country every 30 days.

Once the items are picked up the company handles the entire auctioning process.

O’Brien said getting the items ready for shipment is a time-consuming process to get the, especially during the summer when the department sends an average of 25 to 30 bikes each month. She creates a manifest and second bar code for every item.

But, Jackson added, giving items away for auction is a crucial method in conserving room in the department’s evidence locker.

“We are overflowing into places that we shouldn’t be overflowing into,” Jackson said. “And so it’s really important that items after 30 days are disposed of.”

She said more than a decade ago the department held its own auctions and kept a lot of those items for departmental use. She noted department stopped holding auctions in light of legal and policy-driven processed drawn up in part by the city’s attorney.

“Sometimes we will get shoplifting cases where they have stolen a bunch of stuff with the tags still on it,” Jackson said. “And depending on where it’s stolen from, different store have different policies. And sometimes they don’t come and take that stuff back. So we have brand new items, I mean clothing with tags on it, vacuum cleaners still in the box -- things like that that are brand new.”

However, it’s not always clear where the new merchandise came from.

“Other times we have no idea,” O’Brien added. “You know, if we recover a stolen vehicle and it’s full of stolen brand-new stuff nobody knows where it came from. It could be from Denver, so we end up sending that stuff (to auction).”

The department auctioned off 680 items for a total of $3,054 (before auction fees were taken out) last year — the money is put directly into the city of Loveland’s general fund.

“Which is a lot when you think of what is going there,” Jackson said. “It’s a lot of small things, and it’s not high-end stuff. And you’re not talking high-end bikes a lot of the time, either.”

And the strangest item the two have sent off to auction?

“We don’t really send anything strange to auction because it’s got to have value,” O’Brien said. “We’ve got to be able to sell it. Just regular stuff that people will buy — so there’s nothing that strange.”

In a release PropertyRoom.com officials said the company serves over 3,000 entities across the nation.

“We streamline the entire auction process on a client’s behalf and ensure delivery to the winning bidder,” a release from the auction company states. “There is always a unique deal to be found, with hundreds of new auction listings added daily. ... PropertyRoom.com has generated and distributed millions of dollars to local communities nationwide.”

For now, Jackson said, auctioning off these unclaimed items will help keep the evidence room below its storage capacity — but eventually bigger steps will need to be taken.

“It’s something that (the department) needs to plan for because this amount of evidence is the least amount of evidence we will have in here — tomorrow we will have more, the next day we will have more,” Jackson said. “You know what I mean? It’s not going to get any better, it’s not going to go away.”

Dana Rieck: 970-635-3630, rieckd@reporter-herald.com or twitter.com/DanaRieckRH