In the basement of Victoria police headquarters is a room Sandrina Piano compares to a grocery store.
But instead of shelves packed with food, the dimly lit room houses thousands of envelopes and boxes of various sizes, neatly labelled with file numbers so Piano can easily find what she’s looking for.
Everything that’s seized or turned into police ends up here, waiting to be returned to its rightful owner for the next 90 days if it’s been lost or stolen. Only a small amount of the lost property however, ends up back in the hands of its owner.
“A lot of people don’t know to report to the police if something is missing,” said Piano, who’s seen everything from lost cellphones, laptops, weapons, and skateboards, to ashes, wallets, jewelery, dentures and personal photographs during the two decades she’s worked in the police exhibit control and purchasing.
“If you name it, we have probably seen it at some point.”
Finding the owners of lost or stolen items is a task police admit isn’t easy, which is why the department is trying to find a better way of getting the property returned to its rightful owner.
According to police spokesperson Bowen Osoko, the department is looking at creating a system that will notify victims of theft about items police have recovered. In the past, police have gone to Pinterest or Used Victoria, posting images of the items with the question, is this yours?
“We work as best as we can to get them back, but frankly we’re trying to come up with a better way,” said Osoko. “It really is a challenge. This is something that we certainly struggle with.”
In the meantime, officers are left trying to determine exactly how they’ll return thousands of items that were swiped from a number of businesses last month and recently recovered from an area home.
On June 10, officers were called to Hillside Mall after a business owner saw a man grab a carved wooden elephant from his store, then flee the scene. Using surveillance footage, officers recognized the suspect as a known prolific property offender, identified a car and tracked down an address.
Inside the home, police recently found more than $100,000 worth of goods, ranging from carvings, paintings, posters and various types of art to bed linens, toys, dolls, electronics and office supplies still in the original packaging.
“Their belief is these crooks were stealing these things to resell, but it’s unclear exactly how they were selling it. That’s part of the ongoing investigation,” said Osoko, adding there is some indication the thieves were selling the items online.
“It’s a very large amount of stolen property….the reality is many of these items individually wouldn’t have even been reported to police.”
Two men and a woman are now facing several charges of theft under $5,000 and possession of stolen goods.