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From Fingerprints To Pogo Sticks: Inside Phoenix Police's Property Room

Published: Friday, April 22, 2016 - 4:22pm
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(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
Phoenix Police Property Supervisor Joseph Kolbeck in the property room in south Phoenix.
(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
The property room is a 60,000 square-foot warehouse that holds about 1.5 milion items.
(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
The property room stores evidence from crime scenes, including fingerprint cards, clothing and anything a suspect might have touched.
(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
The rows of items stored in the property room are organized by invoice numbers that correspond with the department’s cases.

The Phoenix Police Department’s property room is much more than a room. It’s a 60,000-square-foot warehouse in south Phoenix packed with 1.5 million items impeccably organized on rows of tall shelves.

As Property Supervisor Joseph Kolbeck walked up an aisle full of bulk goods, he listed off some of the items stored there.

“We have a guitar; we have an ATM machine; we have a floor jack; we have a Shop-Vac; we have trunks, computers, shopping carts, walkers," he said. “Vacuums, pogo sticks, ladders, speakers.”

He could go on.

“You name it, we probably have seen it, and we probably even have the kitchen sink,” he said.

The property room is where officers bring any items related to a crime. It’s where your property is held if you’re arrested, and it’s where your lost items might end up if you left something at the airport.

“What’s stored here is anything that would be stolen, anything to be used in a crime, any evidence that’s collected. I mean, there’s going to be print cards; there’s going to be photographs; there’s going to be clothing, radios, cell phones,” Kolbeck said.

Kolbeck has been on the job here since 1988. Now, 28 years later, he’s got the process of organizing this many items down to a science.

“When we’re scanning property away, it’s going to give us a location. It’s going to tell us it’s in the warehouse. And W means warehouse. It’s in the vault. We use V for vault. It’s in the freezer, we use F. It’s outside with bikes, we’ll use a B,” he said.

Officers collect all kind of things from crime scenes, including guns, drugs and cash that’s seized from anyone on their way into prison or from a large-scale drug bust.

“Once it’s here, the very first thing we do is process our cash and our drugs,” Kolbeck said.

Just outside the warehouse there’s about three acres of land where they store stolen cars, bikes, motorcycles, engines, go-carts, lawn mowers and other large items.

The police get rid of about 200,000 items a year, Kolbeck said. Some items are returned to their owners. The department also holds an auction every month, and they donate or destroy the rest.

The property room takes in about 220,000 to 250,000 items each year, according to Kolbeck.

“There’s always going to be some kind of growth,” he said.

Plus, there are some items that will never be cleared.

“You have other offenses that have no time limitations on them, and so unless you solve the crime, theoretically, it will just stay here,” said Sgt. Trent Crump, Phoenix Police Department spokesman.

He said sexual assault kits, which are collected as part of rape investigations, are kept in giant freezers for 40 years. Evidence from unsolved homicides will never be destroyed.

The oldest case with evidence still kept in the warehouse is from an unsolved murder from 1947.

“Just about every type of call that you can think about when you look around in here, somehow has evidence or property tied to it,” Crump said. “You could go to a burglary at a house if we started a property crime, and anything that’s left behind by a suspect or anything that’s touched by a suspect is going to create evidence.”

Even though his stock keeps growing, after this many decades on the job Kolbeck isn't worried about keeping it all in check.

“After, you know, 28 years of walking in here every day my primary jobs is to safeguard it, to manage it, to track it and get it back to the rightful owner,” he said.

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