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Police Complaints Board Releases Report on D.C. Police Department's Procedures for Handling Property

Monday, September 30, 2019
Board recommends proper implementation of current policies, oversight of officers responsible

WASHINGTON, DC – The District of Columbia Police Complaints Board (PCB), the governing body of the Office of Police Complaints (OPC), today released a report to Mayor Muriel Bowser, the Council of the District of Columbia, and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Peter Newsham on MPD’s policies for handling personal property of community members during police activity.

Over the last three years, OPC has received approximately 50 complaints per year regarding the handling of personal property by MPD officers.  Complainants allege that the officers did not properly log or record their property, which resulted in their property being lost or damaged and not returned to them upon release.  Additionally, complainants allege their property and/or money was stolen by MPD officers while in police custody.  

MPD’s current policy on recording, handling and disposition of property coming into the custody of the Department (General Order 601.01) requires officers to utilize a paper property book to log property.  In addition, they are required to complete (typed or hand-written) a PD Form 81, which details the item and its travel during the time in police custody.  Additionally, Special Order 00-17 provides detailed procedures for handling money seized by officers.  Further, the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) General Order 302.13 requires officers to activate their BWC for any search of a person or property, and “during the initial inventorying of seized money or any high value property.”  

The PCB is concerned about the complaints received by OPC that allege officers damaged, lost, or seized complainants’ personal property.  The Board is also concerned about complaints that officers improperly refused to return property because there was no record of the property or the property could not be found.

Therefore, the Board recommends the following to help improve and facilitate better relations and increase trust between the community and MPD officers:

  • MPD should adopt new technology and establish an electronic system for logging and tracking property, and update General Order 601.1 to reflect the new system. 
     
  • The requirements for recording interactions with property in General Order 302.13 should also be expanded to include all interactions with property.
     
  • MPD should retrain officers on General Order 601.1 and other related guidance to ensure that officers understand the procedures by which property is to be secured, recorded, and disposed. 
     
  • MPD should conduct an audit to examine mishandling property allegations, and attempt to identify patterns surrounding the misconduct to better cultivate a culture of integrity and transparency.

“MPD’s policies currently in place for handling property are in line with best practice standards,” said Michael G. Tobin, OPC’s executive director.  “However, the problem lies with the policies not being properly implemented or adhered to by officers and this can diminish trust between officers and the community.”

To view the full report, visit www.policecomplaints.dc.gov/page/policy-recommendations.