Santa Fe police evidence room upgraded after scathing report

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Mar. 4—The Santa Fe Police Department has finished upgrading and replacing locks and keys in its evidence storage area and purchased a bar-coding system for evidence management, Deputy Chief Ben Valdez told the city's Quality of Life Committee on Wednesday.

The department also has doubled its number of evidence property technicians.

The changes were spurred by a scathing report released last year that outlined issues with the police department's evidence handling policies and procedures.

"This was heavy lifting," Valdez said. "Fortunately, we were able to get this ball rolling before COVID struck. I hate to imagine what would have occurred if we didn't have that momentum going before we got into the throes of this pandemic."

The evidence room came under scrutiny after the department discovered it lost evidence in the 2017 Selena Valencia murder case.

Her boyfriend, Christopher Garcia, was accused of fatally stabbing her. But because of the lost evidence, the District Attorney's Office offered him a deal in which he pleaded no contest to one charge of voluntary manslaughter and two counts each of tampering with evidence and drug possession.

Garcia was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and with good behavior, he could serve six years.

An independent auditor released a report in January 2020 detailing 37 issues with the agency's evidence handling procedures.

SCS Northwest Consulting Services LLC found that drugs were not properly stored in the narcotics vault and inventory of evidence was not being completed per department policy.

Valdez said new camera and alarm systems have been installed and staff coverage in the evidence room has increased from five days a week to seven.

Valdez said the department still needs to finish auditing all sexual assault examination kits and complete the disposal process for outdated and unneeded evidence inventory.

The department plans to ask the City Council for approval to buy digital evidence management software to help store and organize body and vehicle camera footage.

The upgrades and alterations were estimated to cost around $1 million — $467,000 for the new equipment and $400,000 for new staff.