NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The North Providence Police Department has about 15,000 pieces of evidence and property in their possession. It ranges from things like CD’s and empty beer bottles, to crack cocaine and shotguns.
Some of it dates back to the 1980’s. Currently, about 100 pieces of it are unaccounted for.
The missing evidence was flagged in a report commissioned by the town to look at sexual harassment allegations made by a female police lieutenant. The report, released in March, also looked into claims made by Lt. Diana Perez that numerous pieces of evidence and property were missing from the department’s evidence rooms. The report found some of the items unaccounted for included “a coin, a ring, two necklaces, a watch, a laptop and a hand gun,” as well as drugs like a “white tablet, six green pills and two crack cocaine buys.”
“We certainly don’t want an environment in which police officers, civilian personnel in a police department — any of a variety of folks — could have access to drugs, guns [or] money,” said Roger Williams University law professor Andrew Horwitz. He said a well-managed and maintained evidence room is crucial to the judicial process.
“We need to know that that evidence has been properly and appropriately preserved,” said Horwitz. He also said missing evidence can lead to allegations not only of theft inside the department, but also of police planting evidence on other suspects.
The North Providence police deny anything sinister.
“There’s no scandal here,” Davey told Eyewitness News on Tuesday, saying the pieces of evidence aren’t truly gone. “We just haven’t located them — yet.”
Deputy Chief Davey said none of the items will be deemed “missing” until the department completes a full-scale audit of the evidence rooms. Currently, he said, the items are considered “not located,” and he believes the discrepancies are likely the result of clerical errors. He said there’s no concern that someone has stolen the items and doesn’t believe anything has truly been lost.
Davey said they hope to finish a current audit of the evidence — which began in March of 2015 — by the end of May. He chalks the delays up to manpower.
“It’s always been attempted but died off because of manpower or vacations or police matters that come up that are more important,” said Davey.
According to a general order outlined in the report, an audit of the police department’s property room must be conducted annually. He said members of the department can’t recall the last time an audit was completed. Davey and the department acknowledge they haven’t been following the guidelines.
The Attorney General’s office said they’re unaware of any adverse impacts the evidence issues have had on any criminal prosecutions, but said suspects in those cases often plead out.
Horwitz said he believed the evidence room issues are unique to North Providence, and doesn’t believe other departments have the same problem.
“I’d like to believe that most police departments in the state of Rhode Island do a much better job,” he said.