At least 27 drug cases have been thrown out after an audit showed thousands of pieces of evidence missing from the police department in Braintree, Massachusetts. It is an investigation that some say is shedding light on what has long been a problem in police departments across the state with evidence management.
"Any good-sized police department would be kidding themselves if they thought that it wasn't possible for this to happen," Mark Leahy of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association said.
Leahy says the findings are shocking, but not necessarily surprising considering the challenges so many departments are facing. With a dwindling budget for training and less real estate to store evidence that continues to pile up, he says it the perfect storm.
"A lot of our police departments are simply not built to handle the evidence that we have," Leahy said. "And it's a problem. It's a problem for record storage. It's a problem for evidence and it’s a problem for personnel."
It is a problem that roughly 60 cities and towns across the state are trying to be proactive in solving by completing a voluntary accreditation program through the Massachusetts Police Accreditation Commission.
"It's management control. Simple as that, management control, and that’s what accreditation is designed to do. It's a checks and balances of the system," Chief William Pace of the Randolph Police Department said.
The program required years of training at the Randolph Police Department, but it does include standards on evidence management.
"Once a year I do an annual investigation of evidence to make sure everything is orderly and procedures are being followed, and twice a year we do pop-up inspections," Chief Pace said.
It is oversight investigators are still trying to figure out if there was enough of in Braintree, but a conversation Leahy says every police chief should be having now.
"We have to make sure these things are occurring or we risk cases being dismissed needlessly and no chief wants that," Leahy said.
The Norfolk District Attorney's office did announce grants in wake of the scandal in Braintree for departments who want an audit done or request evidence room training.