Building an Effective Property Room
By Ceaser Moore
Law enforcement agencies around the country dedicate themselves to fighting crime, and their leaders seek innovative approaches to investigate and arrest offenders. Too often, however, officers pay little or no attention to what happens to evidence after they arrest a criminal. Every law enforcement officer knows that evidence must be protected and maintained for laboratory examination and presentation at trial, and many assume that their department always does so flawlessly. Yet, the storage facilities that have the crucial responsibility to maintain evidence and property seem to garner attention only after mishaps. To prevent these errors, law enforcement leaders must maintain a well-equipped property room for their agencies.
In early 2007, we at the Houston, Texas, Police Department (HPD) determined that we needed to completely overhaul our old property storage room, built in 1906. In June 2009, after years of planning, designing, and building, we unveiled a state-of-the-art police property and evidence storage facility.
THE HOUSTON EXPERIENCE
First and foremost, we decided on the location, scale, and parameters of our future property room. To ensure an easy transition and to minimize costs, we chose to build the facility adjacent to the old one on a 2.4-acre site in downtown Houston. We then selected an architecture firm that could carry out all of our plans for a reasonable cost. With our chosen firm, we designed a 59,000-square-foot facility with 11,117 square feet of office space and 31,535 square feet of internal storage.
Houston Police Department's Old Property Room
After we finalized these basic logistics, we determined how this new property room would drastically improve the old model. We planned a moveable 16-foot, high-density compact mobile system for evidence storage, 15,277 square feet of exterior covered storage, and 1,141 square feet of freezers that reach 0°F.
Then, we worked with our officers to determine what technology we needed to properly equip the new facility. Based on this research, we installed high-tech security cameras, movable shelving, an inventory control bar coding system, and concrete vaults.
The room also features a self-contained fire system called Early Suppression, Fast Response, which protects high-pile storage commodities in all of the storage areas, and the building is 100 percent covered by sprinklers inside and out. Another suppression system prevents the pipes from freezing in the outdoor and freezer storage areas but delivers water in case of a fire. The facility’s other security features include an emergency electric generator, which can handle the power load for the entire building. These additional features ensure that the HPD Property Room functions both securely and efficiently.
After this nearly 3-year design and construction process, in mid 2009, we spent 6 months transferring evidence from our former property room and opened the new facility for operation. We were excited to provide our officers with a property room they can trust to protect the evidence that they work so hard to gather.
In total, the construction of the new facility cost $13.2 million. After this initial investment, the HPD reaps enormous benefits from such a well-equipped evidence maintenance system. In an average year, the property room handles approximately 95,000 pieces of evidence, including money, weapons, electronics, biological evidence, and any other miscellaneous items that have been seized, stolen, or recovered. A staff of 42 employees, both officers and civilians, manages the facility, which operates 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for the public and 24 hours a day for law enforcement.
Storage Cabinets for Flammable Materials
During the move, we identified our highest priority storage items-specifically, money, guns, DNA/biological evidence, files, and flammables/combustibles. Money and guns demand tight security, as these often are targeted in property room robberies. Additionally, DNA/biological evidence requires careful maintenance for laboratory analysis. Advances in DNA technology have clinched court cases and vindicated innocent defendants, but these sensitive items lose their value if not stored properly. Also, many property rooms overlook the importance of proper storage of flammable and combustible materials; fire accelerants must be removed or properly controlled to protect all stakeholders and evidence.
Initially, we did not transfer narcotics out of the old storage facility into the new one. Narcotics qualify as a hazardous item, and the Houston Fire Department maintains specific requirements for facilities that handle large amounts of hazardous material. After ensuring that we followed all necessary protocol to store these items, we transferred all narcotics evidence out of the old property room.
Our department prides itself on strong community relations, so we kept the public’s well-being in mind as we designed the new HPD property room. Therefore, we sought to minimize the facility’s disturbance on the surrounding environment. We assessed the room’s potential environmental impact, which every agency should examine before they build. To guide our efforts, we sought U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for our building.
The LEED certification ensures that we continue to minimize our environmental impact throughout the design, construction, and operation phases of the facility. As per LEED requirements, the HPD Property Room boasts several environmentally friendly attributes.
Model for Evidence Storage
- Our contractors used recycled and regional materials throughout the construction process and diverted 75 percent of their construction waste away from local landfills.
- The building’s construction supplies included materials extracted and produced locally or within 500 miles of the site.
- A thermoplastic roof reflects 65 percent of sunlight to reduce the mechanical and energy loads. Also, we designed the roof to withstand wind loads in excess of 110 mph.
- Motion-activated interior lighting sensors significantly reduce electricity consumption in less trafficked areas.
- Interior finish materials enhance the indoor air quality.
- The project’s location on an urban infill site provides employees with easy access to public transit.
These minor changes add up to major results. Our assessments estimate that the building’s energy consumption savings exceed 25 percent versus a conventionally designed building.
Above all, at the Houston Police Department we strive for a culture of continuous improvement in our new property room. We want the facility’s personnel to become the best in their chosen endeavor and for our field officers to feel secure that all evidence will be properly handled and maintained.
If your agency holds some interest in building a new property facility in the near future, consider the aforementioned ideas in your plans. Addressing these key areas will focus your efforts on areas that have substantial benefits for your organization.
Houston Police Department Gun Room
Captain Ceaser Moore serves in the Houston, Texas, Police Department’s Property and Supply Division.