WPD evidence room gets needed upgrades
Feb 26, 2012 (The Woodward News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
WOODWARD, Okla. -- After charges were filed earlier this month accusing a former Woodward Police detective of stealing methamphetamine from the WPD evidence room, the department issued a release stating changes had been made to its evidence procedures and equipment.
According to the release, "policy and procedure revisions have been implemented, and the evidence room has been completely upgraded to include state-of-the-art security systems."
The News recently met with Det. Lt. Chuck Wheeler and City Manager Alan Riffel to discuss the upgrades.
"It's no different than the perspective of a business owner. You try to operate a business as efficiently as you can. And the police department is no different, we need to operate as efficiently as we can," Wheeler said. "In doing so, sometimes you need to implement change, and I think that's what we've done here."
Riffel said the changes were made "to improve a system that needed it."
"Obviously we had it pointed out that we had some issues to correct and we didn't hesitate to do that," he said.
According to the WPD release, the department "was made aware of possible improprieties" by Det. Mike Morton on July 8, 2010. This is a reference to testimony that Morton gave on July 8, 2010 during an unrelated federal case, in which Morton allegedly testified to having previously provided his then wife with methamphetamine he had taken from the WPD's drug locker. The couple divorced in June 2010.
However, it isn't only Morton's "improprieties" that pointed out issues that needed correcting. When Morton allegedly refused to steal more methamphetamine for his wife Christine Sue Morton, she broke into the WPD evidence room herself in April 2010.
Christine Morton, now known as Christine England, was later charged in May 2010 with injuring a public building because she damaged 3 locked doors as she forced them open. But at the time she told detectives she was looking to steal alcohol, not methamphetamine. She pled guilty to the felony charge in May 2011 and was sentenced to 3 years in DOC custody, but has since signed an immunity agreement in return for her testimony against her ex-husband.
EVIDENCE ROOM EQUIPMENT UPGRADES
It is easy to see how the alleged conduct of the former detective and the actions of his former wife have impacted the equipment and procedural changes that have been made in regards to the evidence room.
For example, the wooden doors that England damaged in April 2010 have now all been replaced with stronger, steel doors. The door for direct entry into the evidence room was also relocated to make for more difficult access.
Wooden evidence shelves inside the evidence room have also been removed to make room for new steel shelving.
The old wooden evidence lockers have also been replaced with new steel lockers. The lockers are utilized when officers submit packaged evidence for storage in the evidence room.
Wheeler said after officers place evidence inside the lockers and close the door, they press a button lock. "Once you press the button, there is no way to get back in," he said.
Also the police department has at least doubled the number of security cameras within the WPD detective division offices and evidence room.
Wheeler said there are 3 audio/visual color cameras dedicated to the evidence entry process alone. One camera is trained on the area where officers package the evidence by putting it into the appropriate storage containers, whether that's an evidence envelope or evidence boxes, which are used for weapons such as knives and guns.
The second camera watches over the computer where the officers input evidence information into the WPD's computerized inventory system. At the same time, the information is also entered into Offender Data Information System (ODIS) that's run by the OSBI, Wheeler said.
The third camera is positioned so that it focuses on the evidence lockers where officers physically place the evidence once it is ready to be moved into the evidence room.
There are then additional cameras inside the evidence room itself so that "everything is monitored in the evidence room at all times," Wheeler said.
He said the cameras are not only always watching, but are also recording "24-7."
"We are protected 24 hours a day without a doubt," he said.
In addition to the cameras, Wheeler said "we added state-of-the-art alarm systems; this whole section is now alarmed."
Of these equipment upgrades, Riffel said "I think we got a first rate system for a modest investment."
The city manager said the materials for the equipment upgrades cost $15,540. There was no external labor cost as "we installed everything ourselves with our building maintenance and construction crews performing all the work," he said.
EVIDENCE PROCEDURE REVISIONS
Just as many of the equipment upgrades were apparently influenced by England's breaking into the evidence room almost 2 years ago, the procedural changes were obviously influenced by the alleged improprieties of former Det. Morton.
For example, when officers now package drug evidence, Wheeler said it is weighed several times using digital scales similar to scales utilized by the OSBI. The narcotics are first weighed alone prior to being placed into an evidence envelope, he said. Then once an officer has packaged the narcotics, the entire package is weighed again to obtain a total package weight, he said.
"Then we have a matching set of scales inside the evidence room that we weigh the package on when it is taken out of the locker to see if it's consistent," Wheeler said.
Another new rule requires that 2 officers be present any time narcotics are being packaged, Wheeler said. The 2-man rule also applies to monetary evidence, where one officer counts the money and the other officer serves as a witness, he said.
There are also several regulations that apply to all types of evidence, the detective said. For example, all evidence, including drugs, money, weapons and anything else, is photographed, he said.
Also once the evidence is packaged, sealed and taped across the seal, Wheeler said the officer or officers packaging the evidence must sign the across the tape, so that any tampering with the tape and/or seal would be obvious. In cases where the 2-man rule applies, both officers must sign, he said.
The head detective said the 2-man rule even extends to the evidence room itself. However, the rule isn't just limited to cases involving drug or monetary evidence.
Wheeler said anytime the evidence room is accessed, "there must be a minimum of 2 people in the evidence room."
Also, he said "anytime we go in or out of the evidence room, it's documented, by both the video cameras and a log sheet."
Wheeler said the procedural changes and new policies serve as "safeguards" to help protect the department as well as its officers.
"Why we have the 2-man rule and the cameras is so that if and when something should be called into question, we not only have the 2 officers for accountability, but we also have the video documentation," he said.
A NEW SYSTEM TO BE PROUD OF
Wheeler and Riffel said the policy revisions and equipment upgrades have been completed and in use since last May.
While "anytime you have a change, you have to retrain," Wheeler said officers have quickly adapted to the new procedures.
"It's gone well," he said of the transition to the new system.
Overall, the detective said he believes the policy revisions and equipment upgrades "have been a positive change."
"It's an excellent system that I think is working well," he said. "It's been good for checks and balances."
Riffel said, "I've been told by other law enforcement agencies that we now have first-rate procedures and security equipment that are as good as any in the state."
The city manager said the changes that were made were not only based on recommendations made by the OSBI following its investigation into Morton's alleged improprieties, but were also "patterned after the best practices of some of the top agencies in the state."
"I'm proud of the system we now have in place," Riffel said.
In an effort to maintain a system that the city can be proud of, he said the city has adopted an "effort to review all policies and procedures on a regular basis."
Prior to the changes implemented last May, Wheeler said, "I would say the police department needed to update some procedures for a while."
He said some of the policies, not to mention equipment, had been in place for "as long as I've been here, which has been 20 years."
However, Riffel said the "directive" now is to review procedures and equipment annually "to see what modifications are necessary and what technological upgrades are possible."
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