There was not a heelmark on the warehouse’s front entry tile. Its cavernous storage areas were pristine.
“We went from the Flintstones to the Jetsons,” said Inspector Keith L. Williams as he described the Metropolitan Police Department’s new $20-million evidence warehouse in Southwest on Tuesday.
Williams had the pride of a new homeowner showing off top-of-the-line amenities: towers of automated shelving that retrieve and present individual items based on a bar-coded storage system; specially designed refrigerators to safely chill combustible PCP; two dozen freezers for DNA and similar evidence; and a restricted pass control system throughout the warehouse with biometric enhancements outside the vaults where seized drugs and money will be stored.
Left behind will be the warehouse on Shannon Place SE that the city has leased for nearly 27 years at a current cost of $110,000 a month, said Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.
The department continued the lease and launched an expedited program to build an evidence warehouse after a 2008 report from the District’s Office of the Inspector General decried deteriorating storage conditions. The Shannon Place site, built as a furniture warehouse in 1962, had a makeshift drug vault constructed of plywood and was sweltering in summer and freezing in winter, threatening the well-being of property and people, the Inspector General said. The site was so crammed that there was a grave risk of theft, misuse or loss of evidence, the report concluded.
The new warehouse, said Lanier, will be more efficient in storing items, improve chain-of-custody integrity for court proceedings and give her employees “much better working conditions.”
To get a sense of what police have to hold on to, think “Hoarders” meets “CSI” — guns, drugs, telephones, clothing, baseball bats, crutches.
Some property may be returned to victims and defendants within three to four months, depending on court proceedings in a case, said Williams. But in felony cases, District police store evidence for between seven and 10 years, and in major crimes including homicides or assault with intent to kill, evidence is kept for 65 years, he said.
The move has enabled the District to do a comprehensive inventory of evidence it has on hand by assigning barcodes in preparation for the new cataloguing system, said Williams. “And it let us get rid of things we no longer needed to keep.”
The warehouse site also will be home to a sculpture that has drifted through District properties for several years.
“Guns into Plowshares” is a sweeping modern metalwork that invokes a Biblical reference to peacemakers and was welded to include guns that had been disabled after being turned in to District police through a gun buyback program.
Artist Esther Augsburger, a prominent Mennonite, created the piece, which stood across from police headquarters at Fourth and D streets NW for 11 years until a renovation of Judiciary Square in 2008 caused it to be moved. The piece languished at a site near the Blue Plains treatment plant but has been repositioned outside the entry to the new evidence warehouse.