Evidence Control Supervisor Ty Routley and I are staring into a trough filled with 300 assorted rakes, shovels, golf clubs, baseball bats, samurai swords, pieces of lumber, and the like.
"The majority of the stuff here has been used in some sort of an assault," he says. "If you can grab hold of it and swing it at somebody, it's probably in there."
We're inside the police bureau's new evidence center in a warehouse in industrial Northwest. This is where Routley and his staff of 17 moved this past spring, after years of working out of the bureau's old stable building at NW 17th and Jefferson, which had barely been modified since 1914.
One of the chief benefits of moving the center, says Routley, has been that the new place has more space. And sadly, for a city that prides itself on liberal tolerance and being nice™, it appears the space is needed. While Routley, who has been doing this for 12 years, seems undeterred by the sheer amount of ad-hoc weaponry in front of us, I can't help but imagine some poor domestic violence victim on the wrong end of each implement. There's even a car fender in there, tagged with an "evidence" receipt, which has me visualizing some deleted scene from Reservoir Dogs.
We've already seen the walk-in freezer, stocked floor to ceiling, and bigger than a soccer mom's garage, with DNA samples.
"We don't usually take DNA samples for minor crimes," Routley reassures me, as I stare into the freezing abyss. "These are usually related to a homicide or something of that nature."
With a shudder, I ask Routley to show me the room containing firearms. I'm not allowed to take pictures, but I'm surprised that there are this many guns in Portland, let alone guns that have been seized as evidence related to crime. Everything from the smallest handgun to the most intimidating rifle is represented in triplicate, if not by the dozen. Then, it's on to the drugs. A 25-foot-by-18-foot secure room smells really, really strongly of weed. It's stocked, again, floor to ceiling, and in multiple rows, like a library, with seized and bagged stimulants, depressives, and everything in between.
"We've got a little bit of everything," Routley says, in the tone of a dedicated city employee. No knowing wink. No smile. So I take care to say something neutral about the smell, rather than sucking up a lungful before tearing into the baggies like Jack Black in Tropic Thunder. Well done, me.
The rest of the warehouse is stocked, Ikea-like, on wooden pallets, with every kind of object imaginable. There are adding machines and cans of WD-40, there are televisions and computers, sports bags and sports coats, PA systems and syringes. Crack pipes. The works.
It's all kept at the center sometimes for months, sometimes years, until it's no longer required by the courts or the police bureau. Then, if it's not valuable, the evidence gets destroyed. If it is, there's an auction, with the profits going back to the city's general fund.
I can't help wondering, as we're leaving the drug room, if evidence sometimes goes missing. You know, like, if it sometimes gets lost. In an employee's pocket. For later.
"We've had things we couldn't find," Routley admits. "But 99.9 percent of the time, we're able to resolve it. Nationally speaking, guns, money, and drugs are the three big things that get people into trouble—but we have the right checks and balances in place here so that even if there were bad people, they wouldn't be able to get away with bad behavior."
It's enough to temporarily restore my faith in human nature. But as I drive back to the office I'm once again contemplating whether Portland can really be so hopelessly lost and depraved.