Many times when someone is arrested, the police take personal property as evidence. This may include cell phones, cash, and even larger items like cars.
It makes sense at the time of arrest for officers to take possession of belongings that may turn out to be useful to the investigation. The problem is tied to what happens to the property in the months and years after the arrest. According to liberals who pressed the issue, that does not always add up.
This is the issue in New York City where residents are often left fighting to get their items back even after charges are either dropped or handled. The property is returned, but not as fast as liberals wanted it to be.
After years of complaints from suspects about not being able to get their items back from the New York Police Department (NYPD), a judge has ruled the group was in the wrong. A recent settlement pushes for a policy update and re-training tied to getting citizens their property back.
On the surface one might assume just as the police can take things you have on your person when they arrest you, they can just as quickly hand them back if charges are later dropped.
This is far from the reality of the situation as residents bounce from office to office looking for their cell phones, cash, and anything else the police may have taken.
Issues tied to property not coming back to those arrested by the NYPD does not appear to be anything new. The thing that changed this time was the fact that someone finally sued New York to get the issue fixed.
According to the text of the court papers:
“Each year thousands of New Yorkers lose their cash, phones, and other personal property because of the City’s unlawful policy and practice.”
It seems that there was little motivation for the NYPD to quickly return property even after charges are dropped. During the 2015 fiscal year, the city made over $7 million in profit from the sale of this type of property.
Even when charges are dropped, the return of property is not something that happens automatically. Someone looking to get a phone back, for example, may find themselves running between the police department and the district attorney’s office.
In recent years, the now-cleared suspect would need a letter from the district attorney’s office saying they can release the item in question. This type of letter is not often given in court and seems to be hard to come by.
Even if the letter, or what the NYPD called a “voucher,” was requested, this request often went ignored. Both the NYPD and the district attorney’s office saw the property issue as a low priority.
The two offices seemed to create a “black hole” of sorts for property forms. An example of this problem occurred back in 2014 when Victor Encarnacion was arrested.
In November of 2014, police picked up Encarnacion on drug charges. At the time they took his iPhone.
Encarnacion was a delivery driver when he was arrested. His charges included drug possession and sales.
The charges were dropped six months later. Even though a judge cleared him of all charges, this was not the end of his issue with NYPD.
Encarnacion used his attorney to request the return of the iPhone. He also went on his own to talk to the NYPD property clerk.
The now-cleared suspect was told he could not have his phone back without a letter from the court. The iPhone was not connected to any case number at the time since everything was dismissed.
According to the lawyer on record for Encarnacion, he was denied access to his property “without any justification.” The battle to get the phone back ended up taking two years. It was returned when the lawsuit was filed in 2016.
The lawsuit ended in a settlement this week. This is four years after Encarnacion was arrested.
Neither the NYPD or the city admit to wrongdoing via the settlement. They instead point to the fact that there were improvements made via a new program in 2016. They also have agreed to continue to improve the return process.
In 2016, in response to the lawsuit being filed, the Bronx district attorney’s office created the Property Release Department. This was recognized by the suit and the court as a step in the right direction. It was held out as being an example of a “…signature effort to ensure accountability and timely responses to request for property as required under the existing law.”
It seems in this case that the court agrees that the settlement solves a problem that the NYPD already fixed two years before.