Houston police department’s count of over a million property and evidence items was overwhelming—until a mobilized storage solution increased safety and efficiency.
T he story of Houston Police Department’s (HPD) evidence and property storage starts out the same as many other stories—with an antiquated building that had simply outlived its purpose. As a result, evidence storage was a significant challenge with issues ranging from missing evidence to lackluster environmental conditions inside the facility that threatened the integrity of evidence.
In addition to the outdated building, there was another concern—the exponential growth of evidence and property due to the increased use of DNA testing. There’s usually a tendency to collect more evidence with DNA testing, and the availability of DNA samples meant a case could be overturned long after the evidence was collected. Long-term evidence storage was going to need to be a top priority for the department.
Realizing both of these challenges, HPD got to work on the planning and construction of a climate-controlled, 59,000 square-foot property room. The room serves as the main repository for all property and evidence collected in the city of Houston, and property is stored for as long as is needed, including evidence that is processed by outside crime labs and then returned to the facility. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and takes 61 people to make sure the processes and facility run smoothly.
The total number of weapons stored in a Spacesaver high-density mobile system at the Houston Police Department evidence room – 22,984 handguns, 5,256 rifles, and 17,500 knives.
Soon after the new facility had a blueprint in place, HPD and PageSoutherlandPage, the architects of the space, looked to nearby authorized Spacesaver representative Southwest Solutions Group (SSG) to design a storage solution for the state-of-the-art property room. Working closely with Spacesaver, SSG determined the solution needed to do five crucial things:
After analyzing the facility’s design and the items to be stored, Southwest Solutions Group determined that installing high-density mobile storage systems would be the key to HPD hitting their storage goals—particularly the ActivRAC® Mobilized Storage Systems and the Eclipse Powered Mobile System.
With ActivRAC systems, stationary rows of pallet racking are mounted on carriages and mobilized. These mobile rows can then be compressed, resulting in a much smaller footprint, and the same time provide for 100% accessibility—users decide which aisle to open with the simple press of a button. This means the HPD Property Room staff can get to a particular piece of logged evidence quickly and efficiently, whenever they needed to. Similar to ActivRAC, the Eclipse system uses mobile carriages that move side to side to compact materials into a smaller footprint.
The percentage of square footage in the HPD Property Room that was able to be reduced through the use of high-density powered mobile systems.
HPD decided to segment electronic storage between two identical rooms. Small electronics, such as mobile phones, radios, and tablets are stored in one room while larger items such as flatscreen TVs and desktop computers are stored in another identical room. An ActivRAC system in both areas, with staggered carriages to allow for maximum storage in the triangular rooms, feature six levels of back-to-back wide span shelving for ample storage room and ease of access.
Weapons storage was one of the biggest challenges for the HPD, and the department’s hope was to be able to organize the weapons by containing them in standardized boxes. A powered mobile system made it possible to provide enough storage for 22,984 handguns, 5,256 rifles, and 17,500 knives, which are placed in these boxes and then on shelves, which are designed around the box dimensions. This ensures that HPD can store the maximum number of weapons in the system and still protect the integrity of the weapons.
Similar to the electronics storage area, the nine- and ten-foot tall carriages on one side of the weapons storage room are staggered to allow for maximum storage along an angled wall.
“This property room is an indispensible part of the criminal justice system designed to keep our city safe while according fairness of those who are accused of crime.”
~ Bill White, former City of Houston Mayor
One large room of HPD’s facility is dedicated to storing over 65,000 sexual assault kits on a powered mobile system. The system is configured around the standardized dimensions of the kits, and the kits are stored in this non-frozen room until they are processed off-site and returned to the property room, where they are stored in a walk-in freezer.
In addition to the processed kits, biological evidence is housed on rows of custom-built stationary shelving systems located inside the freezer. The shelving systems are made of galvanized steel, which aids in withstanding the cold and moist freezer environment, and provides 5,000 feet of cubic storage capacity.
To ensure the safety of small evidence items such as money, jewelry, and drugs, the department knew there needed to be an added level of security to their storage efforts. For that reason, a locked and highly secure vault is configured with three seven-foot-tall stationary wide span shelving units with wire decking for safeguarding money and jewelry stored in small containers. Narcotics are stored on an ActivRAC 16P system in a separate high-security room.
The number of cubic feet of storage space provided by the stationary shelving in HPD’s walk-in freezer.
Remaining items that don’t fit into the individual property rooms at HPD are housed on stationary pallet racks, and the organizational system for this general property follows a particular strategy. The majority of items are stored in one of six standard box sizes to create the maximum amount of storage density possible, and Southwest Solutions Group designed an ActivRAC system so that each carriage corresponds to a specific box size.
The carriages are arranged so that box sizes gradually increase from one side of the room to another. In all, the boxes are stored on a total of 33 mobile carriages, which live between two stationary carriages. For the general items that don’t make the cut for the standard box sizes, they are placed on pallet racks located at one end of the room.
Because HPD staff never quite knows what will be taken from a crime scene for evidence purposes, it was important to have an exterior storage space to store bulk items. This canopied area of the facility holds tires to lawn care equipment and everything in between—all on 16-foot-high stationary pallet racking systems. Many of the racks were specifically designed to work around the dimensions of car and truck tires, and flammable storage cabinets were also installed for safekeeping of the flammable evidence.
A large portion of this system is reserved for the approximately 10,000 bicycles in HPD’s possession. At the department’s old facility, bikes consumed an entire floor of the warehouse, whereas now the racks have been configured to store two to four bikes deep.
To keep order among the various spaces, each container of evidence that exists in the HPD’s property room is bar-coded—as are each of the storage systems used to store the containers. Each coded piece of evidence can be easily located and retrieved without having to move another item next to it to gain access—which may seem like a simple concept, but one that saves critical time for the sheer volume of items the property room staff processes on a daily basis. To assist with items at high elevations (many of the ActivRAC systems are 16 feet tall, with the Eclipse commercial mobile systems nine or 10 feet tall), an order picker is used.
The number of bicycles that are stored in the HPD Property Room’s exterior storage space. Large portions of the space’s nine stationary pallet racks were configured to store between tow and four bikes deep.
The combination of mobile and stationary storage systems paid off for the Houston Police Department. The new building has been hailed as technically-advanced building that is able to maintain the integrity of evidence through proper security, climate control, and a highly efficient approach to storage—all things that, when combined, have contributed to the facility earning a LEED certification.
At the Opening Ceremony of the new facility, former City of Houston Mayor Bill White said the property room is a major asset for the international city and its citizens. “This property room is an indispensible part of the criminal justice system designed to keep our city safe while according fairness of those who are accused of crime.”