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In an online world, police auctions go high tech

Hillsboro officers use online auctioneer to get rid of property confiscated during arrests


HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Hillsboro Police Department lead evidence technician Darci VandenHoek stands surrounded by a collection of evidence and lost and found items in the 10th Street precincts evidence room. Darci VandenHoek has seen just about everything.

Rare coins, swords and even a human skull are just a few of the items she’s run across at the Hillsboro Police Department. And after 19 years as Hillsboro’s lead evidence technician, few things surprise her anymore.

“Most the stuff we get is pretty junky,” said VandenHoek, who is in charge of cataloging and maintaining the department’s evidence and property room.

Many of the items are confiscated by police during arrests and searches and are used as evidence in trial, others are turned in by citizens as lost and found.

Normally, items confiscated as evidence are held for 90 days following the closure of a case. The department will often attempt to return the items back to their rightful owners if possible, but if there isn’t a way to locate the owners or if evidence goes unclaimed, they are put up for auction.

“It’s one more chance for people to get their property before we get rid of it,” VandenHoek said. “And before it goes to auction, for anything that has identifiable marks, we make every attempt to get it back to the rightful owner.”

Historically, auctions were held for items that accumulated at the station throughout the year, but, as with many things since the millennium, police auctions have been moved online, where they’re now sold through an EBay-like website called propertyroom.com.

The Maryland-based online auctionhouse was started by a former police officer in 1999, and is now used by more than 3,000 police departments across the country.

Released evidence and abandoned items are shipped to the company, which handles the auction. VandenHoek said that relieves her department from finding space for a constantly increasing supply of stuff — from video game systems to musical instruments. A plethora of hand tools make their way into evidence storage regularly.

“We just had mounds and mounds of stuff,” VandenHoek said of the previous storage system. “It used to be so much work for us. Now, we just stockpile until it’s ready to go — then away it goes.”

The company takes a portion of the proceeds from the auction, the rest goes back to the city.

Not everything makes its way online, though. Some items — such as items used in violent crimes — are never put up for auction. The department can also choose to donate other items, such as bicycles, to local nonprofits, like the Bike Coalition in Beaverton. New clothes confiscated from shoplifting cases are sometimes donated to local homeless shelters or the Boys & Girls Club.

“We try to find useful outlets for the property,” VandenHoek said. “The auction is just one way of getting rid things.”

The department still accepts lost and found items, VandenHoek said, but doesn’t accept items valued at less than $250 unless the item is cash, weapons, identification or bank cards.


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