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Police face challenges storing evidence contaminated with coronavirus

Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 6:21 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - 2020 has come with all kinds of unexpected challenges and new ways of dealing with old problems.

It’s the same for police, suddenly faced with a new dilemma: How to store crime scene evidence contaminated with the coronavirus.

The shelves inside the Green Bay Police Department’s evidence rooms are stocked full of boxes and bags, full of evidence that was carefully collected and kept secure.

There was never concern about adding new pieces of evidence, until police processed a homicide scene in September.

“Our homicide victim, one of them, was COVID positive,” explains Green Bay Police Captain Ben Allen.

Allen says police didn’t know until the medical examiner told them, forcing them to begin contact tracing for investigators who worked the case.

Then came the challenge of figuring out what to do with evidence they needed to keep, even though it was likely contaminated with COVID-19.

“That was our biggest struggle with it because, at the medical examiner’s office, they really didn’t have an answer for us either,” says Allen. “What do we do with it? It’s created tons of problems.”

Police began researching, but it’s such a new problem, there isn’t really research to be found.

“Everything is just changing with this daily, and how long this stuff can last, best practices. I reached out across the country (to other departments) saying, hey, what are you doing with this stuff?” explains Allen.

He says police would normally put evidence in special drying cabinets, but initially they worried those weren’t designed to handle the virus.

They now think those are safe to use.

“It appears that they will filter out the virus, but that changes the process because of how long it needs to stay in there because of that,” he says.

Just to be safe, Allen says they chose to leave this evidence drying in open air, in a special facility outside the department, where it is still away from other people but safe and secure in order to maintain a chain of custody.

Police are confident, over time, they’ll be able to bring COVID-contaminated evidence to those special drying cabinets and eventually store it with no concern.

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