Hard Evidence / 'No margin of error' in safeguarding criminal clues

Jul 4 2009 - 12:38am


(BETH SCHLANKER/Standard-Examiner) Teresa Smullin is an evidence custodian at the Ogden Police Department.
(BETH SCHLANKER/Standard-Examiner) Teresa Smullin is an evidence custodian at the Ogden Police Department.

 OGDEN aEU" Most kids who dream of growing up to be a police officer donaEU(tm)t usually have evidence technician in mind.

The job appears simple, routine even.

Most of the day is spent in "the room," leaving the techs feeling like animals in a cage. The gig carries the title of custodian.

Even so, Teresa Smullin and Dave Stanger are two of the most important and trustworthy individuals at the Ogden Police Department.

They process, document, preserve and safeguard evidence gathered in criminal investigations.

"ItaEU(tm)s pretty boring, but itaEU(tm)s huge. We have control of all the evidence aEU" money, drugs, everything," Smullin said. "Sometimes I go home at night and dream about evidence."

Smullin and Stanger, also community service officers, have worked in the Ogden evidence room for the last nine years.

Each day, they enter "the room," check every yellow locker for evidence, assign numbers and locations, enter information into the computer, issue a bar code for each piece and make sure everything is properly stored.

Some items are sent to be analyzed at the state crime lab.

They see lots of drugs and drug paraphernalia, which Smullin said leaves a stinky smell. They also see lots of guns, other weapons people use to beat each other and various other items.

ItaEU(tm)s more tedious than glamorous, but they take the work very seriously, knowing that any piece of evidence may mean the difference in determining a defendantaEU(tm)s guilt or innocence.

"There canaEU(tm)t be any question at all, no margin of error," Stanger said.

Each month, their goal is to get rid of more evidence than they receive, although it never seems to happen.

The pair trains officers on how to properly submit evidence.

Once in a while, Smullin and Stanger are summoned to court to testify as to the integrity of the evidence.

They also issue duty equipment to the police officers.

Ogden Lt. Marcy Korgenski, who oversees the evidence room, said there has never been a problem. In fact, she said, many local agencies try to copy OgdenaEU(tm)s organization and efficiency.

"We have never lost anything. ItaEU(tm)s a very secure facility and these guys do a great job," said Korgenski, who audits the evidence room generally once a month.

"Integrity is everything, and these guys donaEU(tm)t require a lot of supervision."

KorgenskiaEU(tm)s kudos have been echoed by others outside the department.

Russ Dean, the director of Weber-Metro Crime Scene Investigation, manages the processing of crime scene evidence from all of the local agencies.

"OgdenaEU(tm)s evidence room is state of the art, and they are really good at what they do," Dean said.

"They make our job easier in getting them evidence because their system is very efficient."

Sunday Pearl is the account manager for Spacesaver Intermountain. Her specialty is law enforcement, which takes her in and out of evidence rooms all over Utah and Idaho.

After touring OgdenaEU(tm)s evidence room, she expressed her "amazement and awe" in a letter to Korgenski.

"I have never seen an evidence room that is as clean and organized as the one in your facility," Pearl said.

"Your evidence room should be the industry standard."

Much of the custodiansaEU(tm) time is filled with tedious attention to details, but occasionally interesting things happen.

"ItaEU(tm)s kind of fun to be in the know. If anything big happens, like a homicide, we know about it because of the evidence," Smullin said.

Whenever transients are booked into jail, their belongings, including backpacks and grocery carts, are kept in the evidence room.

After nine years, Stanger said, he and Smullin can predict who will get picked up.

"We call them our frequent flyers," he said. "When we see them on the street, I wonder if we should just stop and get their backpacks now so they donaEU(tm)t get lost."

Smullin disagreed.

"When I see a transient on the street with a full grocery cart, I hope they donaEU(tm)t get arrested," she said.

After nine years, the duo can tell some jaw-dropping stories about items they have seen.

Once, an officer submitted a 5-gallon bucket of vomit. A suspect had ingested drugs and was induced to vomit it all back up, thus the bucket of barf at the evidence room.

"We made the officer come back and dispose of it," Smullin said.

Severed hands and a fetus are among other interesting pieces of evidence that Smullin and Stanger have seen.

ItaEU(tm)s all part of the job, they said.

"When you think youaEU(tm)ve seen it all," Stanger said, "thataEU(tm)s when something new happens."

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