Kenai Police Lt. Ben Langham demonstrates how police prepare evidence for storage on Thursday at Kenai Police Department headquarters on Thursday. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Police Lt. Ben Langham demonstrates how police prepare evidence for storage on Thursday at Kenai Police Department headquarters on Thursday. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)

No room at the precinct: Police face shortage of evidence space

Kenai police are facing a storage crunch.

The amount of evidence collected for criminal cases has been building up for decades, posing a logistical challenge for the department.

“Evidence storage in a police department grows and grows and grows,” Kenai Police Chief Dave Ross said. “There some stuff you can never get rid of. There are a number of things you have to keep for 50-plus years.”

Ross, who was speaking at a Kenai City Council Budget Work Session held last month, discussed the aging precinct building’s space limitations and said he anticipated the issue would need to be addressed in the future.

“So we went from — when I started — having one evidence room, to having two evidence rooms, to two evidence rooms and a closet, and to now one bay in the garage as well,” he said.

The Kenai Police Department has 750 square feet of evidence storage — 440 square feet at the precinct and the rest at a secured off site, Kenai Police Lt. Ben Langham said.

Much of that evidence is held in the precinct’s evidence vault — a windowless room stacked from ceiling to floor with envelopes, paper bags and plastic baggies.

“We have evidence lying on the floor,” Langham said. “And there’s really not much more space that we have to continue to expand some of the items.”

Alaska state law mandates the length of time evidence must be kept in criminal cases. For the most serious crimes — first-degree murder, assault or child sexual abuse — evidence must be kept for the period of time a crime remains unsolved or 50 years, whichever ends first, Langham said.

“When you have to hold items for that long, at some point it’s going to continue to build up,” Langham said.

The precinct has catalogued approximately 50,000 pieces of digital and physical evidence since they implemented their current records management system in 1999 — although some of that evidence dates back to decades before that.

All items collected as evidence in criminal cases is first processed by police officers — who bag and label it with the case number, date and officer’s initials. The evidence bags are placed in a different secured locker until the evidence custodian removes it for filing.

Kelly Holt, the precinct’s evidence custodian, has been organizing and tracking evidence at the precinct for 12 years, and has made the best of the precinct’s limited space. She reorganized the vault last year — pulling out drawers and cabinets to make sure all evidence is readily accessible.

While there’s a constant flow of new evidence into the precinct — 35 to 50 items per week on average — officers work to clear out as much evidence as they can as cases are resolved.

Evidence used in cases that have gone through the adjudication process are returned to an owner, put up for auction or destroyed. What isn’t claimed and has no auction value is destroyed or thrown away, Holt said.

“We’re working hard to turn evidence over so we can get it back out so we can it back out to create space for new evidence,” Langham said.

More in News

COVID-19 (Image courtesy CDC)
State reports 3 more COVID deaths, more than 900 cases

The newly reported deaths push Alaska’s total to 594 COVID fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

In this July 1908 photograph provided by the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear sits at anchor while on Bering Sea Patrol off Alaska. The wreckage of the storied vessel, that served in two World Wars and patrolled frigid Arctic waters for decades, has been found, the Coast Guard said Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office via AP)
Coast Guard: Wreck found in Atlantic is storied cutter Bear

The ship performed patrols in waters off Alaska for decades.

The Federal Aviation Administration released an initiative to improve flight safety in Alaska for all aviation on Oct. 14, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
FAA releases Alaska aviation safety initiatives

The recommendations, covering five areas, range from improvements in hardware to data-gathering.

Kyle Kornelis speaks at a public meeting about the Runway 7-25 Rehabilitation Project on Tuesday, May 4, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna airport unveils revamped runway

Runway 7-25 was temporarily closed earlier this year while it underwent renovations.

Alaska Redistricting Board Director Peter Torkelson speaks at a redistricting open house on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska Redistricting Board Director Peter Torkelson speaks at a redistricting open house on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Redistricting proposals draw concerns from local residents

The state is seeking feedback on the best way to redraw the state’s legislative district boundaries in the wake of the 2020 census.

Signs advertising COVID-19 safety protocoals stand outside the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Oct. 6, 2020, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Ordinance seeks more funding for sports complex renovations

Approved for introduction by the Soldotna City Council during their Oct. 13 meeting, the legislation would put an extra $583,000 toward the project

Most Read