CUMBRIA Constabulary has been branded ‘weak’ for its handling of seized property in a report which claims items have gone missing while in police care.
The review was carried out at the request of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner after concerns were raised over ‘the number and value of payments’ being made to people whose property was lost or damaged while being held in police custody.
“Concern has also been raised over several cases of property going missing from various stores following its recovery by the police,” said the report.
“Overall, we consider that examination of evidence for the areas assessed provides ‘weak’ assurance that there are effective procedures and controls operating over the handling of seized and retained property.”
Richard Rhodes, police and crime commissioner for Cumbria, said around 60,000 items were in Cumbria Constabulary’s custody at any one time.
During the past two years payments have been made totalling ‘between £3,000 and £6,000’ by way of compensation for lost items.
But the report points out the county’s police force has no property handling policy, while storage capacity is ‘stretched’ and there is ‘a possibility too much property is being retained’.
There is also no process to ensure officers ‘proactively review’ their outstanding property.
“The weak assessment is a reflection of a lack of documented policies and procedures in place to ensure the effective and efficient handling of property whilst in the possession of the constabulary,” added the document.
“In addition, the lack of documented procedures for claims handling has resulted in insured claims being settled by ex-gratia payments when a legal response may have been more appropriate.”
Police have statutory powers concerning the seizure and retention of property and often items must be retained until a decision is taken whether to institgate criminal proceedings for an offence.
There are also legal requirements which must be applied to the retention of property connected with major and serious crime.
In some circumstances property must still be retained following a conviction.
“The main thing was the issue about not having a system for dealing with confiscated property or that which had been seized as evidence,” continued Mr Rhodes.
“The issue is that there was no system.”
He said a ‘possibility’ is that police might barcode items in the future, although this would be an ‘expensive’ solution. He has now set targets and says he will review the situation in six months.
“Lost or damaged property is something we take very seriously,” Michelle Skeer Assistant Chief Constable.
“Thankfully the damage or loss of any property in our care is relatively very rare.”