When Hurricane Sandy touched down in Brooklyn in October, the storm flooded two New York Police Department warehouses, damaging thousands of pieces of evidence needed in criminal trials, reported
The New York Times
According to Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the Police Department, a police official has had to testify that evidence was inaccessible in at least six criminal trials in recent weeks. And prosecutors and defense lawyers like Steven Banks, chief lawyer for the Legal Aid Society are concerned that many more cases could emerge.
The NYPD has sought advice from officials at the New Orleans Police Department about how to handle the damaged evidence. But more than seven years after Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, waterlogged evidence still remains a problem in New Orleans.
“If you don’t keep it properly stored, you’re affecting somebody’s life,” said Robbie Keen, who directs a federally financed DNA project in New Orleans that is still trying to recover evidence.
Ms. Keen said some of the damaged biological evidence from Hurricane Katrina had been successfully tested, but some had been lost.
In an effort to prevent the damage at the Brooklyn facilities from negatively affecting lives or leading to wrongful convictions, the NYPD assigned 20 officers, 6 civilians and a captain to recover evidence at the two warehouses. But, a safety team within the Police Department subsequently determined that the warehouses had been contaminated, barring the workers from the sites with no date for safe entry , said Browne.
To make matters worse, the department’s outdated paper records were already unorganized in the storage warehouses. Despite advancing to a bar code system, the old method is often the only way to track millions of pieces of evidence in the department’s 11 storage areas.
Last September, the New York City Police Department, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Innocence Project were awarded a National Institute of Justice grant totaling $1.25 million to catalogue crime scene evidence so that those seeking to prove their innocence through DNA testing can more readily get access to evidence in their case.