“I hate the smell of this stuff,” Lt. Michael Chalek, interim police major, commented as he bent over a bin of confiscated marijuana in the permanent evidence room of the University of Rhode Island Police Department.
Marijuana is the most common item confiscated from students on campus, followed by alcohol. The substances is so frequently seized that Lt. Richard Moniz has dedicated entire shelves to it within the permanent evidence room.
Marijuana and alcohol, although most common, are not the only items officers take from students. Â According to Moniz, officers can seize anything from drugs and alcohol to license plates and guns. The full list includes drugs, bongs, pipes, grinders, kegs, alcohol, guns, money, cameras, phones and more.
“We have some…weird things,” Moniz said. “We’ve seized a condom for a sex case. We’ve also gotten sex videos that may be part of a case.”
Chalek also added that many of the bongs officers confiscate could certainly be considered unique.
“They have been very unique and creative in their designs and smoking materials,” he said.
No matter how unique the object, all confiscated items go through the same process within the station. Any confiscated materials go directly to the temporary evidence room, a tiny, closet-like room with a set of shelves and a metal mailbox. Any officer can open the temporary evidence room by swiping in with his or her ID card. However, when it comes to the mailbox within the room, which houses any drugs that come into the station, only Capt. John Carey and Moniz have a key.
“The less hands in the pie, the better,” Moniz said
Moniz is also responsible for moving items into the permanent evidence room. This room is much larger and houses items that are currently active in cases. Unlike the temporary evidence room where any officer could swipe in, only Moniz and Carey have access to the permanent evidence room. However, the process for entering both rooms is the same. Both rooms are alarmed, and anytime a room is opened, the dispatcher hears the alarm go off. For that reason, any officer entering either of the rooms is required to call ahead to dispatch before opening the room. This way dispatch has an exact record of who enters the room at what time. Â Similarly, everything that goes into each of the two rooms is documented with a specific number so that it can be tracked easily.
“We have a protocol because we don’t want stuff to go missing,” Moniz said.
The permanent evidence room is home to several notable objects. There is a full keg against the left-hand wall in front of boxes upon boxes of traffic records. The right side of the room holds dozens of bottles of alcohol, shelves and boxes and drugs and smoking apparatuses, and different types of weapons. Perhaps one of the more impressive items is a semi-automatic rifle complete with ammunition.
According to Chalek, the weapon was seized from a student because URI does not allow students to be in possession of weapons while on campus. However, when the student graduates from URI, he may be able to have his gun returned to him.
“If it is legal property we can return it to its owner when we’re done with it,” said Chalek. Other weapons in the permanent evidence room include a shotgun and a BB gun with the orange tip removed to make it look like a real gun.
There is a safe in the back of the room for large amounts of money and other important items. For example, officers recently seized $8,000 from a drug case. In cases where large amounts of money are involved, 30 percent of the money goes to the General Fund and the police station gets to keep the remaining 70 percent.
“We use the money to supplement our budget and help us buy equipment, pay for training or pay for things we haven’t been able to budget for,” Chalek said.
With the large amounts of marijuana and alcohol being confiscated, the temporary and permanent evidence rooms fill up fairly quickly. The station has a system of disposing of these types of items in order to keep the rooms organized and up to date.
“I purge the room whenever it starts to get pretty full,” Moniz said. He and another officer take all of the drugs to an incinerator in Westerly once a year. Moniz has to take several precautions when doing this. First of all, he makes sure to document which items are going to the incinerator. Second, he brings another officer with him to be a witness.
“We also videotape the incineration process,” Moniz said. “This way we can’t be accused of taking the stuff for ourselves and using it. We don’t want those types of problems.”