BILLINGS – The Billings Police Department evidence facility is busting at the seams and running out of space, something that’s been the case for quite some time.
However, a big change could be on the way if Billings city leaders can formulate a plan to fund a new facility after already approving a concept.
The facility is filled to the brim with rows of evidence boxes ranging from small to large. Inside the boxes, there are personal items, weapons, drugs, paperwork, sexual assault kits and even video files used in discovery, among other items.
Next to all of that, evidence technicians and police officials have their workspaces, something Lt. Mitch Hart said is not ideal.
“So we’re actually working in our desks are in the evidence facility, which is by the standard you’re not supposed to have that,” he said.
Hart has overseen the facility for about a year and knows first hand the challenges when it comes to space.
“At some point, I have to grow,” he said.
And as Billings grows with no slow-down of crime in sight, Hart is finding it increasingly hard to manage important pieces of evidence with what little space they have left.
He said the space was never meant to be an evidence warehouse but has been used as one for the past 14 years.
It’s roughly 6,000-square-feet and Hart said that since he’s taken over managing the facility they’ve moved 61,000 items in for safe keeping.
“You know, I have items in here from 1946 and some items I can rotate and I can purge. And then there are other items, say homicides, that I have to keep,” he said.
Because Billings has an intense crime scene, Hart said the facility must keep a lot of items.
“You know over the years crime has increased with the size of the city,” he said. “We need a place to hold it, so eventually we can bring that person to justice.”
But space is running low.
So low, that three 40-foot mobile conex storage boxes were moved onto the facility’s secure grounds to be used as overflow for large items. Drugs are often moved into those storage boxes too as the evidence facility doesn’t have proper ventilation.
“Would it be nice to have more room? Yes, it would. But we are trying to do the best we can with what we have right now,” said Hart.
However, Hart is taking action to do better.
As a new city budget gets closer to being approved in June, Hart hopes the councilmembers will include $3.2 million to finally break ground on a new evidence locker. The concept to build a new facility on the same property to last ten years was already approved month ago, according to Hart.
The city council just has to figure out how to pay for it.
“We are general funded, so that’s by tax dollars,” said Hart. “As they say, it’s the price of doing business and you know unfortunately business is good now to where we have to grow with the community”
The new 15,000-square-foot facility would add office space, a lab, an area for processing items and vehicles and could even expand more, down the road.
“Over time, if we do it now then we are saving money as if we build it block-by-block over years,” he said.
Until the budget is final and shovels are in the ground, Hart has to continue to purge evidence as quickly and efficiently as possible to make room for more.
“We deal with it as best we can,” he said. “It’s tight quarters. We try to find the best way to possibly work.”
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News