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Exhibit A: found items in police evidence room - Proposed law could make it easier for police to donate unclaimed property

By Ruth Longoria

There's a pink and purple bike in the Mercer Island Police Department evidence room. Though it's new to the room, it's obviously been used for a while by some Island child. It's got a shiny, silver seat and slightly dirty white tires, and there's a strand or two of streamers left on one of the well-used handlebars.

``Some little girl must be awfully sad,'' said Kelly Donnelly, police evidence technician, about the owner of the lost child-size bicycle.

The bike is only one of several cycles, scooters and other found items filling that portion of the police department's massive basement rooms. Every summer, there's an abundance of found bicycles placed in the evidence room. So many, in fact, that Donnelly can't understand why no one comes to claim them before she has to find a method to dispose of them and make room for the next found items.

``It would make my day if people read about their items and called to claim them,'' she said. However, she does ask that potential owners call her evidence room line at 236-3595, so police lines aren't inundated with lost item calls.

Most folks call it ``the dungeon'' down there in the cold, cement rooms, crammed full of neatly organized sections of evidence and found items. But to Donnelly, it's a wonderful place. And, she enjoys most minutes of her day down there -- behind three locked doors, a dead-bolt and a security alarm. It's there that Donnelly completes the duties required by law in the ``chain of command'' for disposing of police evidence and found property.

Though she enjoys keeping track of the myriad items -- from a plastic camel Christmas decoration, knapsacks, bicycles and skateboards to weapons and who-knows-what-kind of drugs and paraphernalia, Donnelly said, she'd like her job more if the walls of shelves and lockers were empty. And, if people would claim their lost possessions.

There are three ways that evidence room items leave Donnelly's care:

? They are disposed of -- for example, criminal evidence is disposed of if the statute of limitations has expired on trying a case or if the case has been thrown out in court. Confiscated weapons and drugs are destroyed through designated manners, such as through state Department of Ecology guidelines.

? They are returned to owners -- such as with lost items, when a legal owner can be found or contacts Donnelly.

? ^mfnd, if no owner can be found within a specified time -- 60 days for bicycles and most other items -- the items are either auctioned off on the online police auction web site: www.stealitback.com or given to Youth & Family Services for sale at its Island thrift store. Money received from the online auction items are placed in the city's general fund.

Although state law allows police evidence rooms to donate bicycles and toys to non-profits such as the thrift store, other items must be auctioned off for use according to the city's RCW. That makes it more difficult for Donnelly to rapidly dispose of items, and she said, she'd really prefer to donate some of those miscellaneous items to the thrift store.

However, that restriction could change next year, if proposed state House Bill 1145 passes the state senate. The bill was passed by the state House and sent over to the senate earlier this year, but, without a lobbyist to push it along, the legislature ended before the bill was looked at by the senate, said Rep. Judy Clibborn D-Mercer Island, who sponsored the bill.

HB 1145 amends RCW 63.32.050 to read that ``In addition to any other method of disposition of unclaimed property provided under this chapter, the police authorities of a city or town may donate unclaimed personal property to nonprofit charitable organizations.'' The RCW previously read ``bicycles, tricycles and toys'' in place of personal property.

``It was a really good idea,'' Clibborn said of the bill she worked on with Donnelly. ``We should put it on the consent calendar, there's no one against it, so it should pass in January (when the state legislature reconvenes) with no problem.''

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