605 – Storage of Evidence and In-Custody Property

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I. Purpose

The Harris County Sheriff Office (HCSO) will be responsible for the overall security and storage of evidence and or property received by way of in-custody or evidentiary.

II. Policy

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) requires that deputies maintain care, custody, and control of all property and evidence obtained during the performance of their duties.

III. Procedure

A. The arresting deputy will:

1. Log the in-custody property or items obtained from a prisoner on a valuable property inventory form, [CALEA 84.1.1 a, e & f]

2. Place the property or items into a sealed property bag, and

3. Release the prisoner and the in-custody property or items to the booking deputy.

B. The booking deputy will maintain care, custody, and control of in-custody property received from the arresting deputy.

IV. Procedure – Evidentiary Property [CALEA Standard 84.1.2]

The deputy obtaining evidentiary property will:

A. Seal the property in an evidence bag, if possible, with evidence tape. The deputy will initial and date the areas sealed with evidence tape. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 d]

B. Create and attach an evidence barcode label to the article. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 d]

C. Place the property into a designated evidence locker located at the patrol substation prior to the end of his or her tour of duty. [CALEA Standard 84.1.3]

D. Transport and release the property to the property room if the property is too large or valuable to be placed in the secured evidence locker at the patrol substation. [CALEA Standard 84.1.3]

1. If the property room is closed and the recovered property is too large to be secured in the evidence locker at the substation, a supervisor will be notified, and the property will be transported to the alternate storage site designated by the Patrol Support Bureau by no later than the end of the deputy’s tour of duty.

a. The property will be placed in the alternate storage locker, and the depositing deputy will enter the case number, barcode label number, date, time, and submitting deputy’s name and personal identification (PID) number into the log book. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 a, b & h]

b. The general access lock will be placed inside the storage locker, and the door will be locked with the secure access lock obtained from within the specific locker. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 h]

2. If alternate storage lockers are used, the deputy will ensure notification is made to the property room supervisor by 7:00 A.M. of the following workday via telephone, e-mail, or fax.

3. If the property room needs to be accessed after normal business hours or a property room transport vehicle is needed, the supervisor on duty will contact the Communications Division to initiate the property room call-out procedure established by the Field Operations Support Bureau.

E. Place latent prints or 35mm crime scene photographs into an evidence envelope, and secure the envelope into the evidence locker designated for prints and photographs. A property tag is required. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 d]

F. Digital Photographs:

1. Minimum Standards for Digital Cameras: The HCSO minimum standard for a digital camera is one with a pixel resolution of 3000 × 2000 pixels (6 mega pixels) or higher with optical zoom lens features. In general, crime scene images will be saved to a JPEG format. Crime scene forensic photography can be broken down into two basic categories:

a. Documentation photography (JPEG): Photography that is used to create a record of the crime scene (including injuries, vehicles, articles, structures, etc.) and record the evidence collection process (documenting the recovery of physical evidence at the crime scene), thus aiding in the investigative process.

b. Evidentiary photography (TIFF or RAW): Photography that is used for comparative analysis, such as impression evidence (including, but not limited to: latent prints, palm prints, footwear impressions, blood spatter, firearms, ballistics, trace evidence, etc.). This evidence is usually photographed by a crime scene investigator (CSI).

c. A high-quality JPEG format is an acceptable solution for capturing documentation photographs, but non-compressed formats (TIFF or RAW) must be used to capture evidentiary photographs. These standards are recommendations from two of the industry’s leading authorities, Scientific Working Group on Imaging Technology (SWGIT) and Scientific Working Group on Digital Evidence (SWGDE).

2. No crime scene photographs or HCSO work-related images will be captured by use of a cellular telephone or other similar-type device.

3. Digital photographs will be uploaded into the digital image management system. This is accomplished by running the Digital Acquire program on a HCSO desktop computer.

4. The recording of more than one incident for submission on the same memory card is prohibited.

5. Copying or editing images prior to uploading to the digital image management system is prohibited.

6. Any and all images captured during the performance of assigned duties or in the conduct of a criminal investigation are considered to be items of evidence. Inasmuch, the images will be submitted in their entirety.

7. Photographs captured of crime scenes or incidents will not be uploaded into Mobile Field Reporting (MFR).

G. Attach a property or evidence tag to driving while intoxicated (DWI) videotapes, and place them into the evidence locker designated for videotapes. Log the entry in the evidence log. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 d]

H. Secure knives and other sharp objects into knife tubes along with an attached evidence barcode label prior to placing them into the evidence locker. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 d]

I. Place firearms in a properly-sealed package separated from any live ammunition. The preferred packaging material for firearms is clear plastic with initials across the heat seal. However, certain special circumstances may require use of an alternate packaging material or method. Attach an evidence barcode label and a completed HCSO Special Investigations Division request for examination form (ID-125).  [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 d]

NOTE: All firearms will be unloaded and have the action strapped open prior to being placed into the evidence locker. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 d]

J. Place live and unfired ammunition components into properly-sealed packages with initials written across the heat seal. Attach an evidence barcode label. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 d]

K. Generate an incident report documenting all evidentiary property placed into a secured evidence locker. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 c]

L. Upon disposition, attempt to contact the owner of the evidentiary property. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 f]

V. Procedure – Processing and Storage of Evidentiary Vehicles [CALEA Standards 84.1.2, 84.1.3]

Crime Scene Unit (CSU) personnel will be notified whenever a vehicle is seized for evidentiary processing. CSU personnel will confer with the deputy or investigator to determine processing requirements and which secure location will be used for storage.

• Primary secure vehicle storage: 601 Lockwood Drive print stall

• Secondary secure vehicle storage: 310 Fisher Road (Key Map 335Y)

The deputy or investigator seizing the vehicle for evidentiary process will enter an incident report detailing the criminal offense being investigated, the available suspect, victim, and witness information, and include a description of possible forensic evidence to be located during processing of the vehicle. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 c]

A. In order to maintain chain of custody, the deputy or investigator will escort the towed vehicle to the storage location. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 e & h]

B. All seized evidentiary vehicles will be held under secured and covered storage whenever possible. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 d]

C. A copy of the request for vehicle processing form will be sent to the Crime Scene Unit via e-mail or fax prior to the end of the requesting deputy’s shift.

D. Upon completion of processing, the crime scene investigator will notify the deputy or investigator who requested the vehicle processing. The responsible crime scene investigator will complete a supplement report of the processing results. Upon notification, the deputy or investigator will be responsible for having the vehicle retrieved from secure storage and released to the person entitled to the vehicle.

VI. Procedure – Touch DNA Evidence Collection and Submission

Touch DNA evidence may be recovered in order to identify or eliminate suspects during a criminal investigation.

A. Felonies: A limited number of touch DNA evidence items recovered for felony cases will be submitted to the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences for testing and will be based on offenses as shown below:

1. Sexual Assault: Items in sexual assault evidence kits will be processed first.

a. If informative DNA information is obtained, no further testing will be conducted.

b. If the evidence kit results are not informative, then clothing and other items will be processed sequentially.

c. All items will be processed in cases with multiple perpetrators.

2. Homicide: The initial analysis will be limited to ten (10) items chosen by the investigator or the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (DAO).

3. Other crimes against persons: The initial analysis will be limited to five (5) items chosen by the investigator or DAO.

4. Property: The analysis will be limited to three (3) items.

5. Known reference samples: Known standards submitted for analysis will not count against the number of items submitted for analysis.

B. Misdemeanors: As a general rule, all touch DNA evidence recovered in misdemeanor cases will be submitted to the HCSO evidence and property room for storage and future retrieval by investigators if and when needed in connection with felony cases.

NOTE: The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences Forensic Genetic Laboratory will no longer accept DNA evidence for testing in misdemeanor cases as of October 21, 2016, unless authorization is given to test cases of unusual or exceptional circumstances.

C. All touch DNA evidence submitted to the HCSO evidence and property room will be retained until the statute of limitations has concluded or otherwise directed by appropriate authority that the evidence be retained longer for further investigative purposes.

NOTE: The evidence and property room will not serve as the determining entity regarding retention of evidence beyond the statute of limitations and may legally destroy such evidence per statute requirements unless otherwise directed.

VII. Procedure – Lost, Abandoned, or Found Property

All procedures of documentation and chain of custody will apply to all items classified as lost, abandoned, or found property recovered by a deputy. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1]

A. Property that is appropriate for HCSO official possession are:

1. Any firearm;

2. Money, jewelry, or other valuables;

3. Personal items with some means of identification, such as driver’s licenses, checkbooks, and credit cards; or

4. Any property with a distinct serial number. Bicycles that are not reported stolen or have no documented owner of record available will be left where found or with the reporting party.

B. The deputy who recovers lost or abandoned property will make every effort to notify the rightful owner or custodian of the property for possible release prior to submitting the items to the property room or generating a report. [CALEA Standard 84.1.1 f]

C. The deputy will not recover property where there is little or no hope of determining ownership, such as bicycles with no serial numbers and purses or wallets with no means of identification. Such property will be left where they were found or with the reporting party.

Revision

This policy has been revised on the below listed dates:

April 21, 2009                       October 31, 2018

July 20, 2009                           May 20, 2021

June 27, 2012

July 29, 2016

November 22, 2016

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