Walk into Cindy Hood’s office and you're likely to detect a faint odor of marijuana. A few steps from her desk is an arsenal of weapons: everything from an assault weapon to a handgun to a sword and even some deactivated hand grenades.
At one time, Hood had to work her way past a spa, a kitchen stove and a massive television that were taking up valuable space around her desk.
Hood, who has been with the Napa Police Department for more than 20 years, is the community service officer in charge of the property and evidence room in the basement of the department’s offices on First Street in downtown Napa.
The climate-controlled room is crammed with boxes and bags of evidence recovered by investigators from a crime scene. This is also the storage spot for items of value found by police officers or the public.
Drugs destined to be burned, guns restored to owners or melted down
Marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine, with drug paraphernalia such as pipes, syringes and scales, are kept under lock and key until the criminal cases are concluded and the district attorney releases the evidence.
Then the drugs are incinerated.
“I can’t for obvious reasons release the location," Hood said. "Officers have to stand there and make sure all of the drugs completely burn.”
Firearms no longer needed as evidence are sent to a Bay Area foundry where they are melted down for sewer pipe.
“Most of the stolen guns are retrieved: Owners usually have the serial number, which proves ownership,” Hood said.
Computers line two walls in the evidence room. If a computer is confiscated in a search warrant or part of a criminal case, its owner may download certain items with permission from the district attorney’s office, Hood said.
A corner of the room is set aside for evidence collected from sexual assault crimes.
“We have to give them a larger area because the evidence can be bedding, pillows and other bulky items,” Hood said, pointing to a child car seat.
Bikes and owners are hard to reunite
Even bulkier are the many stolen and confiscated bicycles stored in a shed behind the police department.
“Most of them are found bikes. Some are evidence and others are being held for safekeeping, such as if a person is arrested while riding a bike, we keep it here for 90 days,” Hood said.
Found bikes are the hardest items to reunite with their owners, said retired Napa police officer Bob Van Wormer, Hood’s one helper in the property and evidence room.
“We can ID the owner through the bike’s serial number, however, many people don’t keep track of that kind of stuff. Only about 10 percent of the bikes are recovered by the owners,” Van Wormer said.
If a person turns in a found bike, and police cannot find the owner, the finder may claim the bike, he said. After 90 days, unclaimed bikes are auctioned off.
Body fluids kept in controlled cold storage
Several freezers and refrigerators lining a back wall contain sealed plastic bags of blood and urine.
“The blood and urine samples are kept in different freezers,” Hood said. “We have to be extremely careful to not cross-contaminate the evidence while handling it.”
If the temperature fluctuates in a refrigerator or freezer, "an alarm goes off to let us know,” Hood said.
The specimens are sent to the state Department of Justice where they are processed and tested, she said.
Most evidence is kept until the criminal case is concluded and the appeal process is finished. However, homicide evidence must be kept for 99 years, Hood added.
Evidence is released only by order from the Napa County District Attorney’s Office or the courts.
Discarding (purging) found property is an ongoing process, said Shirley Perkins of Napa Police Administrative Services.
“We do everything possible to find the owners. If we know who they are, we write them letters,” she said. “We have even returned property to people who are incarcerated.”
Hood couldn’t said she recall any particular “weird” items she has encountered throughout the years.
“I was going through a sack once and a plastic skeleton popped up. It really startled me,” she said.