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Metro Affairs


Making Their Case

2/25 • We took a tour of the Spokane police evidence building today. Situated on a quiet road near the courthouse, the cinder-block building is roughly 60 years old, and in need of updating. Mayor Mary Verner and Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick are trying to drum up public support to build a new one at a cost of $11.8 million. Verner is concerned the existing premises, which are owned and maintained by Spokane County, are so dilapidated that police and sheriff’s evidence could be compromised by water damage, or lost entirely. Verner said she also worries about the safety of the seven city employees who work there.


One of those employees is facilities evidence manager Shannon Hallam. Hallam says the 17,000 square-foot warehouse stores more than 140,000 pieces of evidence, much of it contained in 4,000 brown cardboard boxes that constitute the facility’s general storage. “Everything from paper, clothing, pot pipes and car stereos,” she says.


Entering the warehouse from the street, the aroma of pot is potent. “By the end of the day, I’m a little ‘woooo,'” Hallam says of the way she feels working in an enclosed area with burlap bags of weed drying inside. Verner acknowledges the ventilation system could be better. “These are not good working conditions,” she says.

Ron Oscarson, Spokane County facilities director, agrees that the building could use some work. “It’s a beat-up old warehouse,” he says. “On the other hand, there’s certainly a lot of opportunity in terms of space and less expensive improvements to that building that could be done as well.”


In the east end of the warehouse that stores bicycles and other bulky items, the ceiling and support beams are showing signs of stress, which Hallam says was exacerbated by the record snowfall this winter. And in an older part of the structure, significant water damage is visible near the ceiling and running much of the length of the building’s south wall. At one point, a black tarp dangles from high above to protect evidence boxes from leaks.

Oscarson says the roof has been replaced in the last 10 years, and that a structural engineer determined that snow had not caused damage to the post-and-beam addition on the building’s east end. “The east end of that building is pretty old and ugly,” he says. “We’ve talked about it that the wooden end should be replaced.”


Although the warehouse is equipped with smoke sensors and alarms, there is no sprinkler system. Looking around at all the cardboard boxes, manila storage envelopes, guns, ammo and drugs, it’s easy to imagine what a fire would do to the place.


Hallam notes that the warehouse area affords only one exit—a double dead-bolted door at the end of a long corridor lined floor-to-ceiling with boxes, suitcases and countless manila envelopes.

“For a warehouse, it meets code,” Oscarson says, adding the nature of the facility necessitates a limited number of entry and exit points for security purposes. He says the county offered adjacent space that would add up to 5,000 square feet to the existing floorplan and another exit option. But it’s a far cry from the 35,000 square feet the city says is needed to keep up with the growing inventory of evidence.


The walk-in cooler that stores DNA and other evidence , much of it acquired through rape kits, is almost full. Some of that evidence dates to the early 1970s, which means the statute of limitations for prosecuting such decades-old rapes has long expired. Hallam says city prosecutors and detectives have asked that it be stored, hoping that new technologies and scientific advances will lead to a break in some cases. “It’s my job to hang onto it,” she says.


But the most troubling space issue, Hallam says, involves homicide evidence, which can require storage of hundreds of items in multiple boxes. The city recently amended its storage policy for all homicide evidence, requiring it to be warehoused until the suspect or defendant is deceased.


The proposed new facility, which city of Spokane residents must vote to fund through a property tax increase, would include 35,000 square feet of warehouse space in a new location on Normandie Street. The new building would allow detectives to pull their cars into a secure location inside the facility to offload evidence. Currently, they pull up curbside to the warehouse and enter from the street.

Hallam says the new facility would be large enough to contain existing and new inventory for the next 15 to 20 years. Approximately 1,000 combined square-feet of energy-efficient freezer and cooler space would store the rape kits and other DNA evidence, and a 500 square-foot drug vault would provide ample room for the $2 million in controlled substances the existing facility now stores in a space half that size. Verner acknowledges the proposed $11.8 million facility is the most expensive piece of the $18.5 million public safety facilities bond. “But it’s important, even in these economic times, so we’re asking voters to move forward,” she says.

  1. I was really intrigued by this post. Thank you. Old, storied, anonymous, and [for the most part] abandoned bits of people’s lives — from DNA to plastic madonnas — fascinate me. I can’t imagine it was too easy getting in here! Wonderful.

  2. Actually, it wasn’t that difficult. Mayor Verner invited the media on a tour to see how rundown the place is. All we had to do was sign in near the front. There were even a couple of TV crews wandering around.

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