When Sgt. Brett Robison stepped into the role of property officer for the Camas Police Department in late 2014, to say that he felt overwhelmed might be an understatement.
At the time, the department’s property room included between 4,000 and 5,000 items that ranged from cell phones, tools and firearms to jewelry, coins, electronics and even a generator. It’s all unclaimed evidence seized as part of investigations, or stolen and found property that could not be returned.
“Police department evidence rooms are places that are kind of forgotten,” Robison said. “It’s a locked room that nobody can get into, except the property officer. It’s like a black hole. It’s out of site, out of mind. When I came in [to oversee the CPD property room] it was full — I mean full. It was daunting.”
In the past, the city would get rid of these types of items through a public auction held during Camas Days weekend.
“In the last few years, we haven’t even been able to get an auction together to purge the property,” said Police Chief Mitch Lackey.
The effort to coordinate the events, he explained, was time consuming for police and finance department employees, and the amount of money the city received for the effort was minimal.
“Over time, that stuff builds up. As a matter of fact, it’s incredible how fast some of that stuff builds up,” Lackey told the City Council earlier this year. “It really was in pretty bad shape. We had collected a lot of stuff — a lot of guns and different little items. There are certain things that we actually destroy, and that is one way to get our property room cleaned out. But there are other things that you wouldn’t destroy because they have a value.”
So with new items making their way into the property room every day Robison, a CPD employee since 2007, knew something needed to be done to control the overflow. He just wasn’t sure what.
“I didn’t know anything about evidence, other than how to collect it,” he said.
While attending an International Association of Property and Evidence Room Technicians training in Portland in January, Robison heard about Propertyroom.com, an online auction site started in 1999 by a former New York police detective. The company, with the motto “We haul away headaches and send back money,” aims to alleviate the inherent burden faced by police departments and other municipal agencies as they work to get rid of unwanted property.
“It was really a consensus nationwide, and the larger agencies especially, that Propertyroom.com was just a fabulous way to, on a regular and consistent basis, cycle stuff through,” Robison said.
Many local agencies are already using Propertyroom.com, including the Washougal Police Department, Clark County government, Battle Ground Police Department, Skamania County Sheriff’s Office and the Vancouver Police Department. There are a total of more than 3,000 law enforcement and municipal agencies currently using the service nationwide, including 160 in Washington.
Robison describes the process of submitting items for sale on Propertyroom.com as “simple and streamlined.”
The goods are bar-coded by the selling agency, then delivered by mail or truck to one of the company’s warehouses. Propertyroom.com employees check to make sure things are in working condition and catalog and photograph them. The merchandise is then put up for auction on PropertyRoom.com. Most bids start at $1 — except for cars and certain unique items — unless the police agency requests a specific opening price. The firm packs and ships items to the winning bidder. The buyer pays for shipping.
Camas Mayor Scott Higgins commented that the service is an innovative way to use technology.
“This is basically eBay for equipment that has been confiscated,” he said.
Propertyroom.com will accept anything that has value, to be sold on its website. Guns are offered for sale through a federal firearms dealer. Items that cannot be sold are donated to charity, recycled, destroyed or thrown away.
In July, the City Council gave Robison the green light to work with Propertyroom.com. The CPD’s first shipment of approximately 400 items was delivered and went up for auction in the fall. The city receives 50 percent of each sale; Propertyroom.com keeps the rest.
“This company’s business model is that they run every day, 365 days a year, an online auction 24-hours a day,” Lackey said. “You can imagine the nationwide scope of the number of people they can reach. For their 50 percent, they take all of the hassle off of the agency. They have all of their arrangements set up to make this a plug-and-play system for us to keep the property flowing.”