Crime evidence has a special place in River Falls police department

Posted December 7, 2016

The River Falls Police Department (RFPD), like many police departments throughout the country, has an evidence lockup where crime evidence is preserved and maintained for the complete duration of a criminal’s sentence.

Only four individuals within RFPD have access to the evidence lockup, which is a large room in the basement of the police department in downtown River Falls, according to Investigator Jennifer Knutson, who presides over the lockup.

The other three people who have access to the lockup are the police chief, the deputy chief and a patrol officer.

“We keep the evidence. We collect it, hopefully at the beginning of the case. We keep it all through the trial period. If the person is found guilty, we have to keep the evidence all through their sentence,” Knutson said.

Some pieces of crime evidence are stored in the lockup for a much greater period of time than others. Knutson noted the Schaffhausen murders, which occurred in 2012, as a case for which the police department expects to maintain evidence for a significant amount of time due to the fact that Aaron Schaffhausen received three life sentences.

Although some evidence is held in the lockup for great lengths of time, Knutson said it is seldom re-examined.

“In my career here there hasn’t been very many times where the evidence has been brought back into question,” said Knutson. Additionally, there are some cases where the police department does not have a suspect associated with the evidence that is brought into the lockup. However, even in such cases, the police department is still required to maintain the evidence until a suspect is found, according to Knutson.

In addition to the police department’s constant accumulation of evidence, routine inventories occur in which Knutson finds evidence that is no longer needed, and then follows the proper procedures for disposing of the evidence.

“Sometimes it’s returned to the owner. Sometimes it’s just destroyed: crushed, burned, thrown away, depending on what it is,” said Knutson.

Among the countless and miscellaneous pieces of evidence that are brought into the lockup, firearms are not one of them.

“All firearms are taken to the crime lab in Madison and are destroyed. They burn them all,” Knutson said.

Some criminal cases rely solely on evidence, which means it is critical for the evidence to be available and well-preserved.

“Evidence is very important to the cases. It needs to be guarded. It needs to be protected, which is why we have so many parameters in place to do so,” said Knutson.

“There’s different locks on the doors, there’s the electronic key codes that people have to have to get in, surveillance cameras in place, restricted access to who can even be outside of the room,” she added.

Maintaining the security of the evidence is so critical that when tours of the police department are given, the evidence lockup is never one of the points along the route, according to Knutson. In fact, no information is ever provided by the department that would reveal a point of access to the lockup.