Missing evidence in criminal cases is “way more common than you’d think,” expert John Vasquez tells the Austin Chronicle. Vasquez worked in property and evidence management for 25 years, first for the military and then for two police departments, before starting his own evidence-control consulting business. More often than not, the evidence hasn’t actually been removed from a law enforcement storage facility – though scandals involving stolen evidence are unnervingly common. Instead, says Vasquez, missing evidence is generally misplaced evidence – logged into one area of a storage facility and then moved without anyone noting the new location, or overlooked when a department’s evidence-tracking system is upgraded.
An investigation by the Chronicle into the state of criminal evidence storage and retention in Texas reflects that while state laws firmly mandate the preservation and maintenance of evidence that may contain biological material, there is little consistency in how these laws are actually carried out, including wide disparities in how evidence is packaged and maintained. Legislation enacted in 2011 extended by decades the length of time that items of evidence that may contain DNA must be stored, and directed a group of stakeholders to come up with guidelines and best practices for the handling and storage of that evidence. However, many law enforcement officials see the legislation as merely a good first step, and moreover, an unfunded mandate. Property and evidence technicians and managers are often poorly paid and receive very little training, if any, on how to do their job.