COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) — Millions of taxpayer dollars and more than 23,000 square feet are devoted to preserving more than 450,000 pieces of Colorado Springs Police evidence and property this year.
How long evidence is kept in storage depends on the severity of the crime, but Colorado law dictates how long police hold onto evidence. At a minimum, property obtained by the Colorado Springs Police Department is kept for 60 days. The more serious the crime, the longer evidence is stored. Evidence linked to misdemeanors, for instance, is kept for a year and a half.
“So typically, the evidence we’re holding indefinitely is homicide cases or sex assault cases,” said CSPD Evidence Technician Rachael Denny.
Evidence linked to cold cases is also kept forever.
“It’s a huge responsibility for myself and my unit to maintain the integrity of all the evidence that comes in,” said Denny.
13 Investigates found out the incoming and everlasting evidence will eventually outpace what the department is able to purge.
“So currently we have about 450,000 pieces of storage including property and evidence. Each month we’re taking in about 6,000 items of property and evidence as well,” said Denny.
More than a third of the city’s 2021 budget goes toward the Colorado Springs Police Department at almost $142 million. Of that, $2 million is slated just for evidence and the impound lot. Even a vehicle that was taken into CSPD evidence in 1952 is still in the impound lot.
“Hopefully we won’t grow out of our unit — or our space for probably the next five to seven years,” said Denny.
There’s also a different kind of evidence piling up, and the cost is only increasing. Body-worn camera footage isn't measured by rows in an evidence locker, it's instead calculated by terabytes.
“We have 375 terabytes currently,” said CSPD Body Worn Evidence Technician Marisa Salazar. One terabyte is double the highest storage currently offered in an iPhone.
At already almost 1.4 million videos in four years, CSPD’s body-worn camera footage is expected to increase exponentially as Colorado’s police accountability bill takes full effect in 2023. The bill requires all officers to wear and use body cameras.
“It’s $1,000 per officer per year at this point,” said Salazar.
That cost includes equipment and storage. CSPD pays over half a million dollars for 550 officers to wear body cameras in 2021. But complying with the police accountability law will bump that number to about 800 officers, or about $800,000 each year starting in 2023.
The lifespan of the videos is similarly separated by severity of the crime.
“So we have to go based on the state’s retention schedule,” said Salazar. “We have to follow that. But it also allows for the court process to go through. So not only for sentencing, but for the appeal process and appeal process and appeal process.”
Video of felony arrests or felony crimes is held for 99 years. Despite it being a state mandate, it comes with no additional funding from the state.
But these are budget line items the department and the law view as invaluable and non-negotiable.
“It really isn’t about the money or anything like that,” said Denny. “It’s more about our mission of helping those victims out there and ultimately seeing a conclusion to the case where we do find justice for the victim and the family.”
CSPD will need an additional storage facility for evidence in the coming years. Meantime, the department is working on organizing and better using the space it does have.