Pieces of furniture etched in colorful scribble, computers, and a frozen dead bird, are just a sample of the items found at the La Habra Police Property & Evidence storage facility.
The computer? It holds evidence in a sex crime case.
The furniture? Those graffiti markings show gang affiliation and sometimes proof of retaliation.
And the bird? Crucial evidence in a domestic violence case. The feathered friend was kept in a freezer while awaiting an autopsy to determine cause of death.
One of the strangest things the La Habra Police Department stored was a large glass window with a handprint on it. For another case, they stored a samurai sword. And in a challenging moment for the department, they had to find space for the contents of an entire home.
“The most unusual thing that we had was a stolen U-Haul trailer, and the contents of the U-Haul trailer were basically an apartment – water heater, cabinets, the whole thing,” said Senior Property and Evidence Officer Jessie Jaime, who’s been with the La Habra Police Department for 22 years, and in property and evidence for 13 years. “We had to book all the contents, basically, of an apartment into our evidence room.”
Jaime and Property Technician Rosie Ramos, who recently transferred from the Parking Unit to Property, handle about 10,000 pieces of evidence a year.
“We hold the keys to any given case, any crime,” Jaime said. “We’re the ones who protect it, preserve it, and ensure that when it’s time for it to go to court as an exhibit we’re able to provide it.”
The most common items Jaime and Ramos receive these days are narcotics, DVDs, and thumb drives.
“Everyone’s got surveillance cameras now,” Jaime said. “Everyone’s got Ring doorbells.”
Jaime spends most of his time processing video from the officers’ body worn cameras, which were implemented in late 2017.
“Basically, my full-time job right now is downloading and burning body worn cameras and getting them to court for discovery requests for the DA’s office,” Jaime said.
Jaime, a La Habra native, became interested in a law enforcement career while studying for his engineering degree. His cousin, Corporal John Jaime, took him on a Sunday afternoon ride-along and he was hooked. Later, his engineering degree came into play when he was a Community Services Officer assigned to take traffic collisions. He easily calculated the speeds of impact for collisions he had to investigate.
When asked why La Habra and why law enforcement, “For me, what got me was driving around in a police vehicle and seeing the city I grew up in in a different light,” Jaime said. “(It’s) being part of the community, growing up here, seeing this community change over the last 22 years I’ve been here.”
One recent change, for the better, is the department’s new property and evidence long-term storage space. It greatly expands the department’s storage capacity. That’s where DNA evidence such as urine, semen, vomit and items related to homicide cases are stored in highly-protected freezers, while long shelves along the walls hold boxes labeled by year.
“We’ll never get rid of it,” Jaime said. Homicide case evidence is held forever. Anything in short-term storage, however, can be destroyed after a period of time based on statute.
“The least amount of hands that touch evidence the better it is for the department, the better it is for the chain of custody,” Jaime said, adding that each time the item is moved or touched by someone who isn’t a property officer, the date, time, and name must be logged. Officers are sometimes asked to testify in court as to how often the item has left storage.
Jaime and Ramos’ desks are at the La Habra police station, nestled amidst short-term storage items and found property like bicycles and lost wallets. They make a great team and are integral in the success of the mission of the La Habra Police Department.