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Following the evidence
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Looking to increase efficiency as the county grows, the Newton County Sheriff's Office and the Newton County District Attorney's Office recently entered into an agreement which should streamline the sharing and disposal of criminal evidence.

NCSO Lt. Keith Crum has spent more than three months auditing the entire contents of the evidence room located on the bottom floor of the sheriff's office.

"Now that we are tied into the district attorney's office system, we can go in and look and see if the case can be disposed of," Crum said. "Before, we had to pick up a piece of evidence, write the information down, go up to the district attorney's office, ask them to look it up on their system and see if the evidence can be disposed of."

All new items will be logged into this new system and shared between the two offices.

"The district attorney's office can now look up on our Eagle System and they can tell exactly what pieces of evidence we have, where it is at, whether it is at the crime lab and if tests have been completed," Crum said.

But for the past few months, Crum has had the unenviable task of categorizing the evidence previously kept in the evidence room. Some evidence dates back to the 1970s.

"I am down here now to go through here and do an audit of every piece of evidence we have so we can make a decision on whether we are retaining the evidence, whether we need to do disposition order on it, if the case is open or closed or if it's past the statue of limitations," Crum said. "So I have to make a judgment on every piece of evidence down here and how to handle it and what to do with it and to get it into our system."

 Items kept in the evidence include everything collected at a crime scene, Crum said. This could include trace evidence, Samurai swords, homemade treadmills, baseball cards or drugs, which are the most common item found in the evidence room.

"It's mostly marijuana, but there is also drug paraphernalia," Crum said. "There is everything from hookahs to rolling papers and everything else that is associated with drugs."

During the audit, Crum has been able to set most of the drugs up for destruction. Larger quantities are taken to the GBI for mass destruction while smaller packages are destroyed at the county landfill.

Crum has also been able to rid the evidence room of most of the guns used in crimes. Smaller "Saturday night specials" are currently being stored in box awaiting shipment to the GBI so they can be melted for recycling.

The guns which are in better shape are housed on racks in the property room outside the evidence room. The property room is used for found items not related to a crime or items which have been released after the prosecution of a crime. The 250 riffles, shot guns and pistols will be sold in lots to licensed firearm dealers.

The evidence room, property room and crime lab are well protected and basically tamper proof, Crum said. Dead bolt systems run on special card, keypad and key access with only a handful of people having access.

Crum said he is almost finished with the audit but has approximately 90 more evidence boxes left to go through. Each box contains evidence from 30 to 40 cases. Once the review is complete, the new system will automatically audit all evidence.