(KTRK) By Andy Cerota -- Disappearing evidence, theft, and internal investigations -- that was the reality of Houston's property room just two years ago. Today the City of Houston took a big step towards trying to restore confidence in the way crucial evidence in thousands of criminal cases is handled.
It could be up to a year before the new property room is fully functional. It could take that long to transfer the some 500,000 pieces of evidence that are currently stored in the old property room. Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt calls it an investment and a giant step forward for law enforcement. Click here to learn more about high density mobile shelving.
It is a brand new $13 million state of the art property room with all of the bells and whistles, and a stark contrast to the outdated, dilapidated old building the Houston Police Department has been using to store evidence since the late 1970s. "That was a nightmare," Chief Hurtt said. "This is a dream come true." From missing guns to 280 boxes of evidence that were misfiled and suddenly discovered, to concerns about the conditions inside and how they may have been compromising the integrity of the evidence stored, the property room's past has been rocky. The new 59,000 square foot facility boasts a modern security system where evidence will be stored, tagged, electronically coded, and tracked, a climate-controlled freezer to house DNA evidence that's three times bigger than the old one, and moveable high density shelving. "Having evidence of crime and evidence of crime that has a proper chain of custody that has been properly stored that could be retrieved when ready for trial is indispensable," Mayor Bill White said.
Whether this new property room will erase the mistakes and embarrassments of the past remains to be seen, but the H.P.D. and city officials remain hopeful. They see it as a giant step in the right direction towards maintaining the public's confidence and trust in the criminal justice system and in the Police Department. "We're very confident," Chief Hurtt said. "We have a captain here that is very dedicated to make sure this works. We have supervision in place."
In a separate announcement Mayor Bill White said, "This day marks a milestone for public safety in our community. A modern property room, a place where we can keep, find, and store evidence in connection with criminal offenses is indispensable to accomplishing two goals which all of us benefit from.
First, to make sure we are able to bring to justice those individuals who violate our criminal laws. The prosecutors and those who investigate crimes and those who are witnesses of crimes find that having evidence of crimes, and evidence of crimes that have a proper chain of custody that is properly stored, that can be retrieved when ready for trial is indispensable. Second, it insures those suspects accused of crime or those convicted who have remedies to post judgment; remedies provided under Habeas Corpus that they have evidence that can be fairly used by those who seek to defend them.
So this property room... is an indispensable part of the criminal justice system designed to keep our city safe while according fairness of those who are accused of crime."