General Policy Information
Latest Revision Date: 11/20/2013
Title 1 - Department Structure and Function
Title 2 - Department Employment
Title 3 - Employee Welfare
Title 4 - Human Resources
Title 5 - Employee Conduct
Title 6 - Arrests, Search and Seizure
Title 7 - Evidence and Property
Title 8 - Use of Force
Title 9 - Equipment and Uniforms
Title 10 - Police Facilities & Security
Title 11 - Detainee Management
Title 12 - Department Information Systems
Title 13 - Vehicle Operations
Title 14 - Emergency Operations
Title 15 - Primary Investigation
Title 16 - Patrol Operations
Effective Date: 1/16/2013
This Department will make every reasonable effort to recover lost or stolen property, to identify rightful owners, and to ensure its prompt return. Recovered evidence will be handled in a manner to ensure a successful investigation and prosecution of the suspected crime.
All evidence shall be handled, packaged, and submitted per the guidelines in the on-line WSP Physical Evidence handbook, and the SPD Evidence Packaging/Submission Guide. In the event of inadvertent conflicts between these documents, the SPD Evidence Packaging/Submission Guide shall be the controlling document.
While handling evidence and property, officers will follow exposure control procedures when necessary (See 3.045-Bloodborne Pathogens).
A. Employees shall not retain any found property or evidence that has come into their possession through the course of their official duties for personal use.
B. Once an employee has taken possession of an item, the item must be placed into the Evidence Unit or other authorized evidence storage area as soon as possible, but no later than the completion of the employee’s shift.
C. Information concerning collected items or property shall not be inappropriately disclosed to those outside the criminal justice system.
D. The Seattle Police Department has legal authority to take certain types of property into possession (RCW 63.21.050). The property must meet one of the following criteria to be taken into possession.
1. There is reasonable suspicion that the property is evidence of a crime.
2. Any item that is dangerous or illegal to possess or presents a danger to the public.
3. Found property where the owner is known or it is reasonably believed that the owner can be located.
4. Any item of found property that has an apparent value over $25.00.
E. Property may be ‘detained’ while the officer investigates the circumstances and screens for the listed criteria. Once the property is taken into possession, it must be placed into the Evidence Unit. The release of these items is closely regulated by statue; therefore, officers are encouraged to screen items carefully prior to taking possession of any property.
II. Physical Evidence – General Procedures
A. The Seattle Police Department will generally adhere to the guidelines set by the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory Division’s Physical Evidence Handbook for collecting, packaging and storing evidence. The Evidence Unit, WSP Crime Laboratory or the proper follow up unit may be contacted with questions about evidence handling.
B. Identifying Evidence and Chain of Custody
1. When evidence is located, the officer will note the location and condition of the item. If the officer chooses to photograph the item, it should be done prior to moving the evidence and should include a scale reference (small ruler). As soon as the evidence is taken into possession, the finder will label the item listing their name, serial number and General Offense Number. The item should be retained by the officer who recovered it until it is submitted into evidence. The chain of custody must be documented on the General Offense Report.
2. When evidence is collected specifically for the purposes of testing or comparison, similar materials or substances from a known source should be collected and submitted for comparison purposes. The collection of known samples is a critical component of the evidentiary process. Types of evidence requiring samples for comparison may include hair, fibers, fabrics, paint, glass, wood, soil, tool marks, shoes and blood.
C. Labeling and Packaging
1. Barcoded Evidence Label
a. The barcoded evidence label is used to document and identify the item as evidence.
b. Each individual item of evidence requires a barcoded evidence label.
c. The barcoded evidence label may be attached directly to the item or to the item’s packaging. Care should be taken so that attaching the label directly to the item doesn’t damage the item.
d. The Evidence Unit will not accept an item that is not properly labeled or documented.
e. Narcotics and currency envelopes require a barcoded evidence label. Additional fields printed on the envelopes must also be completed.
a. An item should be packaged in a manner that does not diminish its evidentiary value. Refer to the Washington State Patrol Physical Evidence Handbook or the SPD Evidence Packaging/Submission Guide for proper packaging techniques or call the appropriate follow up unit or Evidence Unit.
a. The "marking" of evidence should not be needed if the item is properly labeled and packaged. If an item is to be marked, the mark should be small, legible and distinctive. The marking should not diminish the value of the property and not be easily duplicated. A recommended procedure is for officers to use their own initials for marking evidence.
a. Not all items are required to be in a sealed package.
b. To seal evidence packaging, use only clear packing tape provided by the Evidence Unit or Quartermaster. Initial across the sealed opening.
c. When completing the Property Report, indicate the item is sealed by including one of the codes listed below in the Description field.
SSSC = Sealed Sack Said to Contain
SESC = Sealed Envelope Said to Contain
SBSC = Sealed Box Said to Contain
SNESC = Sealed Narcotic Envelope Said to Contain
SNBSC = Sealed Narcotic Box Said to Contain
SCESC = Sealed Currency Envelope Said to Contain
SADBSC = Sealed Air Dry Bag Said to Contain
SCSC = Sealed Can Said to Contain
SPSC = Sealed Package Said to Contain
SPBSC = Sealed Plastic Baggy Said to Contain
D. Checking out evidence
1. When an employee checks out evidence from the Evidence Unit, they are personally responsible for that evidence until it is turned over to the court, returned to the owner, or returned to the Evidence Unit.
2. The officer must provide the Evidence Unit with the court cause number from the subpoena regarding the case the evidence is needed for and complete any other documentation that is required by the Evidence Unit. The court tracks submitted evidence by cause number and not by the SPD General Offense Number. The only way for the department to track these items once they are turned over to the court is through the cause number.
3. When evidence is left with the prosecuting attorney in court, the officer or investigator who checked out the evidence shall have the prosecutor sign the pink copy and print their name and Washington State Bar number on the Receipt for Evidence (form 13.2). The officer or investigator must immediately return one copy of the Receipt for Evidence to the Evidence Unit while the other copy remains in court with the item(s).
E. Laboratory processing of evidence
1. The primary investigator assigned to the case shall make the determination to submit an item of evidence to the WSP Crime Lab.
2. Any items to be submitted to the lab shall be packaged according to guidelines published in the WSP Physical Evidence Handbook. The Request for Laboratory Examination shall be completed by the investigator and submitted with the item.
3. The Evidence Unit will arrange the delivery and pick up of items to and from the laboratories. All standard documentation of evidence transfers shall apply.
4. A form letter requesting written examination results shall be attached to the Request for Laboratory Examination.
III. Special Physical Evidence
A. Dangerous/Hazardous Evidence (See P&T 050 Bomb Threats and Explosive Devices).
1. When officers encounter evidence related to biohazards, chemicals, or explosives, they will follow department procedures for notification and response. The Evidence Unit will not accept dangerous/hazardous material unless it is first screened by the specialized unit that deals with these items. If these items are brought to the Evidence Unit without prior screening, the Evidence Unit will refuse the item and initiate a Haz-Mat or Bomb Threat response.
B. Unknown Items
1. Due to facility and personal safety concerns, the Evidence Unit will not accept unknown items unless a search warrant to open or examine the item is being obtained. This includes, but is not limited to: locked safes, briefcases and luggage. Officers and Detectives should contact the Evidence Unit before bringing these types of items.
2. If the Evidence Unit is not contacted regarding the status of a search warrant within 3 business days, the item will be administratively opened and inventoried. This should not be construed as a method to avoid obtaining a search warrant when legally required.
C. Special Physical Evidence Procedures
1. Ammunition (See P&T 050-Bomb Threats and Explosive Devices)
a. The Evidence Unit will take ammunition smaller than .50 caliber. If officers encounter a large quantity of ammunition and want to place it into evidence, they should screen the incident with the Evidence Unit.
a. If probable cause exists to believe that the boat constitutes evidence of a crime or contains evidence of a crime, the officer will:
(1) Complete the Vessel, Watercraft, or Obstruction Theft and Impound Report (form 5.42).
(2) Notify the Harbor Patrol Unit to arrange for the boat to be towed. All impounds will be stored at the Harbor Patrol Unit boat shed on Lake Union.
4. Cellular phone/pagers-All cellular phones and pagers must be turned off prior to being placed into evidence. When completing paperwork, document the item’s phone number (with area code) as an owner applied number.
5. Computers-If there is a question as to how to take a computer into evidence, the officer should call the Computer Forensics Unit or the Evidence Unit.
6. 35 mm film, Polaroid’s Advanced Photo System (APS) film, digital images and video images.
9. Knives-If the knife will not be processed for biological evidence or for latent prints, the blade of the knife should be covered to prevent injury during handling.
10. Large Items-Large or heavy items should be screened with the Evidence Unit to determine if alternative storage is required.
11. Narcotics (Note: the term “narcotics” is meant to include all controlled substances, for the purposes of this section.)
a. Seized narcotics will be packaged using a Narcotics Envelope (form 9.17) and must be weighed on a digital scale prior to being packaged. The majority of narcotics submitted as evidence will fit into a narcotics envelope. Narcotics that will not fit into the envelope will be packaged and sealed according to the on-line evidence packaging guidelines, located on the SPDWEB.
b. The Department’s digital scales will weigh items from 0.1grams to 2100 grams. It is important that items heavier than 2100 grams (approximately 4.6 pounds), not be placed on the scale pan or damage to the scales may occur. Always use the metric system to record the weight.
c. Whenever possible, employees shall weigh narcotics within its packaging material and then subtract the estimated weight of the packaging material from the reading on the scale. The WSP Crime Lab has established an Easy Reference Guide of common packaging material that can be used to estimate weights.
(1) It is extremely important that the accounting of packaging material be as exact as possible, and the estimated weight of packaging material be documented in the General Offense Report and Certificate of Probable Cause.
(2) Any narcotics case under 10 grams submitted for review by the King County Prosecutor where the weight of the narcotics includes the weight of the packaging material, or the General Offense Report and Certificate of Probable Cause does not specify the estimated actual weight of the narcotics minus the weight of the packaging material will be returned to the Department for clarification.
(3) Careful and safe handling of narcotics evidence is extremely important, officers and detectives should follow the guidelines outlined in the WSP Physical Evidence Handbook.
(4) Pills are an exception, because they can be counted.
d. If the officer places the narcotics in additional packaging, the narcotics will be weighed before being placed in additional packaging. If the narcotics are going to be removed from the original packaging and the packaging is not going to be included in the narcotics envelope, the narcotics will be weighed without the packaging. Narcotics should not be packaged in the container they were recovered in, such as film canisters or tin mint boxes. If the container is to be tested for trace evidence it should be packaged separately in a sealed envelope the same way that paraphernalia is packaged.
(1) Weighing and packaging procedure:
(a) A digital scale and printer will be located in each precinct, the Narcotics Section and the Evidence Unit. The Equipment and Facilities Coordinators will maintain the scales and printers. If a scale is not functioning the evidence must be transported to a working scale to complete the procedure.
(b) Turn the scale on by pushing the on/off button and wait for the word ‘Stable’ to appear in the upper left-hand corner of the scale display. The scale should read ‘Weight 0.0 grams’.
(c) Place the narcotics on the scale pan, making sure that nothing else is touching the pan. If the narcotics to be submitted are wrapped in packaging (for example, in a paper bindle or wrapped in plastic) weigh the narcotics in the packaging material.
(d) Once the narcotics have been placed on the pan, wait for the measured weight to show on the display and ‘Stable’ to appear in the upper left-hand corner. Once the stable weight appears, press the ‘print’ button on the scale.
(e) Once ‘print’ has been pushed the printer will produce a receipt that records the time and date, the scale balance ID number, the ‘user number’ which indicates the unit the scale is assigned to, and the weight of the narcotics in grams.
(f) Advance the receipt by pressing the ‘feed’ button on the printer until the printout can be read. Tear the receipt off.
(g) Complete the front of the narcotics envelope using a ballpoint pen.
(h) The white copy of the receipt will be placed in the narcotics envelope with the seized narcotics. Make sure that the receipt faces out the backside of the envelope and can be clearly read. The officer may retain the yellow copy of the receipt for later reference.
(i) Seal the envelope by removing the protective strip and folding over the adhesive flap so that the colored portion of the flap is entirely affixed to the envelope. Once the envelope is sealed the person who sealed it will initial across the sealed flap. Submit the item to evidence per established procedure.
(j) Record the serial number of the envelope in the Cross Reference field of the Drug Item screen and the recorded weight of the narcotics in the Quantity and Unit fields of the Drug Item screen.
i. When the narcotics evidence weighs less than 0.1 grams, the scale will indicate 0.0 grams as the weight. IBRS will not accept submitted narcotics evidence with a recorded weight of 0.0 grams. If the scale indicates 0.0 grams, the amount recorded in the Property Report/Drug Item Detail Screen Quantity field should be “1”, and the unit of measurement recorded in the Unit Field should be "Trace".
12. Needles/syringes-The Evidence Unit will generally not accept a syringe. Officers should review the handling of syringes as described in P&T 047-Bloodborne Pathogens.
IV. Found Property
A. Under state law (RCW Chapter 63.21), a citizen has the right to make a claim to certain types of found property. If the finder complies with legal procedures, the finder may obtain ownership of the property.
1. All found property will be documented on a General Offense Report. The officer will List “Property-Found” in the Offenses block and fill out the Found Property Text Template. All found items taken into custody will be placed into the Evidence Unit using normal packaging and barcode tagging procedures.
B. A citizen cannot make a claim to found property if any of the following circumstances apply:
1. The property’s owner is known: If the owner of found property is known, a General Offense Report will be completed and the officer will try to contact the owner and return the property. If the owner cannot be contacted or it is impractical to return the property to the owner, the officer will place the property into evidence. The Property Release Notice (form 13.9), provided by Evidence, should be mailed to the owner. The officer will sign the Property Disposition Authorization (form 1.17), authorizing the Evidence Unit to release the property to the owner.
2. The property is illegal to possess: If the found property is illegal to possess, a General Offense Report will be completed. List the finder as a witness and place the item into evidence. non-sworn employees will not take possession of illegal items, but will call a police officer to respond to their location to recover the property.
3. A found motor vehicle: A found vehicle will be handled on a Vehicle Report (form 5.5). Found boats and boating equipment may be treated as found property. If a boat is the found item, the Harbor Patrol Unit has responsibility for safekeeping and follow-up.
4. The finder is a government employee at work: If a government employee finds the property while at work, complete the General Offense Report and place the item into evidence.
C. If the property is eligible to be claimed, ask the finder if they wish to make a claim on the property.
1. Estimate the property’s value. If the item is estimated to be over $25.00 in value, the property must be taken into custody and placed into the Evidence Unit. If the value is $25.00 or less, the finder may have the option of keeping the property.
2. Complete the Found Property Report (form 7.10) and obtain the finders signature on it. Instruct the finder to carefully read the ‘Notice To Finders’ on the copy you leave with them.
3. Complete a General Offense Report including the Found Property Text Template and place found property into the Evidence Unit as appropriate.
4. A Found Property Report (form 7.10) does not need to be filled out if nobody wants to claim the found property
D. The Burglary and Harbor Patrol Units will complete the appropriate follow-up on found property.
E. Found Narcotics: Found narcotics with no suspect information may be reported on a General Offense Report. When narcotics are submitted as found property, complete a Property Disposition Authorization (form 1.17) at the Evidence Unit. Found narcotics must be packaged in a Narcotics Envelope.
A. If an officer arrests and books a person into the King County Jail and they have property that the Jail will not take, and this property is not contraband or evidence, the officer may place the property into safekeeping at the Evidence Unit.
1. When prisoner property is refused at the Jail and must be kept for safekeeping, the transporting officer will complete a SKO Tag (form 12.8). A tag is required for each item you will be submitting to the Evidence Unit.
2. Detach the top copy of the SKO Tag and give it to the jail staff. This notifies the property owner that SPD has their property and that we will hold it for them for 60 days. It also provides them with contact information for the Evidence Unit.
3. Complete a Property Report and place a barcoded evidence label on the back of the second copy. Attach the second copy to the item and submit it to Evidence.
a. SKO items may now be listed on the same Property Report as evidence items submitted under the same General Offense Number.
b. Money and perishable items will not be accepted for safekeeping. Money shall remain with the arrestee. Perishable items should be documented, and then discarded.
VI. Releasing Evidence
A. Evidence should be released once it has been determined that it is no longer needed. Evidence will be released using the Property Disposition Authorization (form 1.17) or, if being returned to the owner, a direct signature to Release of Evidence (form 13.1) by the authorizing Officer/Detective will suffice.
B. The Property Disposition Authorization gives three options: “Release to Owner”, “Release to Director”, and “Do Not Release”.
1. If the item is legal to possess and a person is able to show reasonable proof of ownership, the item must be released to the owner.
a. To release property to the legal owner, a Property Release Letter (form 13.9) will be completed and sent to the owner by the officer or detective wishing to release the property to the owner. The owner must pick up the property in 60 days or the property will be turned over to the Director for final disposition. Complete a Supplemental Report to document the actions taken to notify the owner. Forward a copy of the Property Release Letter to Data Center.. An owner may be notified by telephone but that alone will not satisfy the RCW requirement. Notification must also be made in writing.
2. If the item is contraband, the owner cannot be identified, or the court directs another release, the item will be released to the Director.
3. If an employee receives a request to release the property and the item is still needed, mark ‘Do Not Release’ and note the reason on the Property Disposition Authorization. If the form is not returned within 30 days of being sent out, the director will automatically dispose of the listed property.
C. Release of evidence by other than an involved officer
1. If the arresting officer is unavailable to release evidence or property (for example if they are on extended sick leave, retired, resigned, etc.), the arresting officer’s sergeant or above will be responsible for the release of the evidence.
D. Release of Firearms
1. Prior to completing the Property Disposition Authorization (form 1.17) the person completing the form shall:
a. Attempt to obtain a Washington DOL registration for the firearm.
b. Check WACIC/NCIC to verify that the firearm is not listed as stolen or missing.
c. Print out all of the results of the queries and forward them to Data Center or attach the results to a General Offense Report or Supplemental Report.
2. If a registration, stolen, or missing hit is found the officer must attempt to locate the owner of the firearm. All attempts to locate the owner shall be documented on a General Offense Report or Supplemental Report.
3. The Evidence Unit will check the owner’s status to legally possess a firearm through the Records Section prior to releasing a firearm.
VII. Abandoned Bicycles
Complaints of an abandoned bicycle in the right of way (chained or locked to a bicycle rack) will be forwarded to the SDOT Street Use Complaints Investigator at 206-615-0877.
The SDOT Street Use Complaints Investigator will locate the bicycle, record the serial number, photograph the bicycle and attach a 72 hour removal notice.
SDOT will contact SPD to check for stolen. If the bicycle is stolen officers will be dispatched to collect the bicycle. If the bicycle is not stolen then SDOT will handle.