Politics & Government

Police seek to donate unclaimed property

A microwave left in the middle of the road. A crate of stolen diapers. Duffel bags full of clothes swiped from Macy's.

Because of a restrictive state law, some of the discarded or stolen property picked up by police falls through the cracks, police say. Instead of going to auction or charity, it heads to the dump.

"It's really sad to see usable items go in the trash," said Kelly Donnelly, a Mercer Island police evidence technician.

The Legislature may change that. A bill pushed by Donnelly and two police groups is winding its way through the House and Senate and has a good chance of being approved this year, legislative staffers say.

Most police departments pick up thousands of items a year, much of it stolen property but also some items that were lost or discarded. The valuable stuff, such as cars and new electronics, goes to auction, most at www.propertyroom.com, but auctioneers don't accept anything else.

Many of the remaining unclaimed items, such as clothes or older electronics, would be valuable to charities, but a quirk in state law allows police to donate only toys and bicycles. The State Patrol isn't allowed to donate anything.

The law requires police keep all unclaimed items at least 60 days, but after then, technicians say, a lot of things get thrown out because evidence rooms are overflowing.

The bill would allow police, including the State Patrol, to donate any unclaimed personal property to tax-exempt charities.

Donnelly, who first pushed for a change in state law in 2004, has the support of some lawmakers, an informal group of evidence technicians and the Law Enforcement Information and Records Association, another state group. The bill was passed by the House in 2005 and 2006 but didn't make it to a vote in the Senate. No one has ever testified against the bill.

This year, versions of the bill are House Bill 1268 and Senate Bill 5193.