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Evidence procedures toughened in wake of thefts

POULSBO — Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson said the apparent theft of firearms from the Poulsbo Police Department evidence storage is “absolutely unacceptable” and won’t happen again.

The department will have a new procedure for dealing with evidence to be destroyed, and a “state-of-the-art” software system to account for the evidence.

“All software is only as good as the manual process you have to support it,” Erickson said. “There is a manual process in place — they were beaten.”

The “beaten” process Erickson refers to is the alleged theft of two semi-automatic weapons by a former Poulsbo police clerk, Amanda Dixon, who was arrested in July and October. Dixon had signed documents stating she witnessed the destruction of both firearms, which later turned up linked to her possession.

She was arraigned for the second theft Nov. 16 and bail was set at $50,000. She was in Kitsap County Jail as of Tuesday. An omnibus hearing is set for Dec. 7 at 9 a.m. in Kitsap County Superior Court, where the court will determine the admissibility of evidence. Her trial is set for Jan. 3.

Dixon is accused of stealing a .38 caliber and .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun, both of which she had signed police documents stating she witnessed the guns’ destruction, on July 11, 2010 and May 12, 2011, respectively.

The police department will move into City Hall at the beginning of December. A new evidence locker and software system have been installed, but Deputy Chief Wendy Davis said she thinks Poulsbo’s policies are effective for evidence handling.

“You have the best intentions in mind, [but] sometimes people figure out how to get around the system,” Davis said. Evidence On Cue, a $9,000 software program, was being discussed by city staff last spring, before the firearm thefts were discovered. According to Poulsbo Police policy, evidence is booked into the system with photographs, descriptions, serial numbers (where applicable) and any other identifying marks, and stored with a property tag. The software tracks the evidence from when the officer checks it in, to the police clerk records, to the state crime lab for testing or the prosecutor’s office for trial.

More than one person is supposed to sign the log sheet to assure accountability and chain of evidence. Once the property is no longer needed as evidence, the evidence custodian attempts to return the property to its lawful owner, unless the property is unsafe or illegal. If property remains unclaimed for 60 days, one of three things happen: the property goes to public auction, is retained by the police, or is destroyed.

After the first theft was discovered, Erickson said they began reviewing destruction procedure. She said the city plans to shift the destruction of evidence to the county rather than a shed in the Public Works Department. Evidence is handled through the detective division of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department.

Poulsbo doesn’t have a “large quantity of evidence to be destroyed,” Davis said, but the department “wouldn’t want to maintain [evidence] any longer than you have to.”

“Poulsbo is not the only agency in the state that’s had that kind of issue,” she added.

A full report on the evidence locker at the time is scheduled to be released in the next few months from the state auditor’s office.

The state auditor’s office started a regularly scheduled audit of Poulsbo on May 13 that included evidence management. However, according to city Finance Director Debbie Booher, state auditor April Walker was informed of the evidence discrepancy on Aug. 2 after Booher read about the arrest of Dixon for felony firearms theft in a local newspaper. After reading the news article, Walker added new audit procedures to include how evidence was destroyed.

According to city records, Dixon joined the Poulsbo Police Department as a part-time employee on April 1, 2007 and was hired as a full-time police clerk April 16, 2008. Her duties as a police clerk included “assisting in the destruction or returning of items in following the established procedures for the property room.” She resigned in June after an investigation in an unrelated matter; no charges were filed in that investigation.

When there is a change in personnel who have access to the evidence room, Poulsbo Police procedure states a full inventory of all evidence must be done by independent verification, which has not been conducted. Police Chief Dennis Swiney previously told the Herald, “We are not going to do any additional inventories at this time unless it is recommended by the auditor’s office. At this point, I think I’ve been more than prudent, reasonable and responsive. I feel comfortable with the processes we have in place but we will do more based on additional input. No doors are closed.”

The .38 caliber handgun was turned over to police after Dixon’s father found it in her possessions in his house in July 5, and she was arrested on July 29.

The .22 caliber gun turned up under the driver’s seat of Dixon’s vehicle on Sept. 18, when a Washington State Patrol trooper contacted the driver of the vehicle involved in a collision on State Highway 3, in the Gorst area of South Kitsap. That driver was Dixon’s boyfriend, Jacob Bryant, the agencies reported. Dixon was arrested on Oct. 18 at Bryant’s trial, where he pleaded no contest to firearm possession by a felon and sentenced to three months in jail.

 

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