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Bud In The Basement

By Hempology | January 15, 2007

And Other Tales From the Victoria Police Department’s Exhibit Control and Supply Section

This no ordinary warehouse.

From outside the metal cage, this windowless, artificially lit room may resemble the back of an auto parts retailer with its myriad cardboard boxes lining metal shelves, labelled and stacked neatly for quick reference. 

A closer inspection reveals a rack filled with police uniforms, a collection of bongs, an assortment of thousands of new and used needles – many spattered with the blood of their users – and a stash of seized weapons, real and fake.

“A lot of the public perception is that we are simply a storage area, a warehouse. Or that we are the lost and found,” says Victoria police department exhibit control officer Rebecca Wellman.

While there are elements of truth in that statement, the function of this section operating in the bunker-like basement of VPD headquarters – purchasing and supply is also based here – is of far greater importance.

Evidence from thousands of crime scenes, as well as seized or found property, is stored in two separate rooms here for quick retrieval when needed.

The man in charge of forensic identification services for the Victoria police, Sgt. Mike Yeager, sings the praises of the downstairs crew for their attention to detail and their value in helping make solid cases against suspects.

“Anything that’s going to court has to have integrity,” he says of the quality of material taken from a crime scene. “Even in cases where ( evidence is ) kept in storage for six or eight or 10 months or two or five years exhibit control is vital.”

Defence lawyers routinely jump on Crown lawyers or witnesses if appropriate steps are not followed, he says.

That includes storing bodily fluids, remains or other organic matter in fridges or freezers for potential later use.

“We’ve had human body parts in there that are critical to a case.”

While the items within their care are often crucial to securing a conviction, getting called into court to testify about evidence storage and handling methods is not something Wellman relishes.

“We’ll get blood from an officer from a scene, or that is taken as DNA evidence, and we have to know how to handle it, to send it to the lab, to store it properly, to package it properly for continuity, because there is a chance that we could get called to court,” she explains. “We need to be able to stand there in court and say, ‘Yes, this is how I did it, this is how we always do it,’ and that is proof of retaining the evidence continuity of it.”

Lack of space is a continual struggle.

“If we don’t purge, we run out of room,” Wellman says.

The department has four options for reducing the amount of items on hand. They can be thrown away; shredded, in the case of paper products; returned to individuals after viewing some proof of ownership; or put up for auction.

On this day, exhibit officer Jim Millington – Wellman’s partner in crime, so to speak – is involved in disposal. Wearing a mask to protect himself from mould spores and other floating particulates, he bags up long, pale green stalks of dried marijuana in preparation for burning.

Given the frequency of officers busting grow-ops, turnover in this area is rather regular. Two overflowing bags of fragrant, freshly cut plants stand ready to replace the dried ones on the large, wire-screen drying trays stored in the basement.

Some items are here to stay, like the oldest of those labelled boxes. Dating to 1963, they contain items taken from a murder scene. In fact, murder evidence must be kept forever, while evidence from major assault and sexual assault cases must be stored for 70 years, Wellman says.

Where evidential storage in major crime cases is an exacting aspect of exhibit control, dealing with stolen or found property is more a case of warehousing.

Countless unique items have been recovered, such as the samurai sword peeking out from the edge of one of many bins in the basement.

“That’s more common than you think,” Wellman says.

“We’ve had the parrot off the top of the Earl’s Restaurant, we’ve had numerous signs from around town that are things that you see normally. One of the strangest things was a prosthetic leg. It makes you wonder, what happened there?”

Where stories and drama are an everyday occurrence for Wellman and Millington, purchasing and supply presents Kathy Daitl with a more controlled environment.

She looks after outfitting the department’s officers head to toe – except for boots, which members must secure themselves. Add to that list weapons, safety equipment, vehicle procurement and maintenance, accounts payable and more and it’s clear she also has her hands full.

Having a staff of just four – supervisor Sandy Piano oversees the two sides – means everyone needs to know a little about each other’s job.

“We love the fact that it’s busy and you’re multi-tasking. It’s challenging, and I think that’s a big part of the enjoyment of the job,” Daitl says.

In a sometimes stressful but ever-changing work environment, there’s never a dull moment in the VPD basement.

“We often remark on how things that we say aren’t what most people say in their daily jobs,” Wellman says. “You know, ‘Can you get those 10 Glock .22s out to this unit,’ or ‘Can you hand me that cocaine?’ It’s just not something that you say every day.

“We’re standing here learning how to field strip a handgun. That’s just not something I ever saw myself doing, or knowing as much as I do about cocaine and heroin and meth and all that kind of stuff, or even knowing what that looks like. I never imagined I’d be dealing with it every day.”

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