Law enforcement officers have the right to seize personal property when they make an arrest. Illegal items, like controlled substances, weapons and other contraband are taken from the individual. Any property that could be evidence to support a criminal charge will also be taken and potentially used against the person later. All personal items, like the arrested party’s jewelry, wallet and cell phone are taken as well. These items are placed in safekeeping and returned to the suspect when he is released from detainment.
In a police report, safekeeping means that law enforcement took certain items from an arrestee and those items are currently secured by the department's property clerk. Items in safekeeping are returned when the detainee is released from custody. Owners have to pick up any safekeeping within a certain amount of time, usually 60 to 90 days of it coming into police custody, or else it may be donated to charity or thrown away.
What Is Safekeeping?
Safekeeping protects detainees’ property from being stolen or damaged while in custody awaiting bail, trial or release. If the owner of a particular item in safekeeping cannot be identified, it remains in safekeeping for a period of time designated as a found item by the law enforcement agency. If no owner comes forward to claim the property during this period, the agency may dispose of it.
Property Typically Kept for Safekeeping
Generally, the property kept in safekeeping includes anything found on the detainee’s person, such as:
- cell phone
- outerwear like a jacket or scarf
It is also common for weapons and motor vehicles to be seized from detainees and kept in safekeeping. When a weapon or ammunition is taken, it may be held as evidence to support the charge against the suspect or destroyed if it is contraband. Items deemed to be pieces of evidence are destroyed once they are no longer needed for a case. Legal firearms that are not evidence are held for safekeeping like other pieces of personal property. All items kept in safekeeping are stored and handled by the police department’s property clerk division. The items are recorded and the detainee is given a receipt to use to claim the property upon release.
Recovering Items From Safekeeping
When arrestees are released from custody, they exchange the receipts for the property that was kept in safekeeping. Law enforcement agencies do not hold items in safekeeping forever. Usually, a person released from custody has 60 to 90 days following release to recover her personal property from safekeeping. If the items are not recovered within this time period, they may be put up for sale at public auction or donated. Sometimes, police departments will hold items for longer if the owner calls or writes to request an extension.
To claims items, detainees must provide valid ID and a copy of the original receipt. This voucher lists every item that was taken from the person and may only be used to claim the items it lists. When a voucher does not accurately list items taken, the person claiming them must have the list amended by the precinct where it was initially issued. Often, this is handled by the person's attorney.