Two law enforcement agencies step up policy after evidence goes missing for months

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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) – 9News investigators have learned that two different law enforcement agencies have tightened their policy after missing evidence flew under the radar for months. The officer accused of collecting the evidence mentioned drugs and guns in his reports, but for some reason no one understood him. Former Officer Benjamin Zeringue worked for both the Baton Rouge Police Department and the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office. He was accused of collecting evidence from both agencies.

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He was accused of stealing synthetic marijuana from the sheriff’s office in January of last year, but it wasn’t reported until months later in June when the case went to court and that the evidence was not found. At BRPD, he was accused of taking guns from traffic stops in 2018 and 2019. In that case, the alleged theft was only discovered four years later when children found the guns dumped in a trash pile at Central in April 2022. In both of those cases, the officer mentioned the evidence in his reports, but what he confiscated was never returned.

Law enforcement expert Dr. Andrew Scott is a former police chief and has over 30 years of law enforcement experience. He says having evidence missing for months or years is unacceptable.

“It’s a real dilemma in law enforcement and it shouldn’t happen and there’s no reason for it to happen,” Scott said.

Scottie Hunter of WAFB asked Scott if there should be some kind of internal mechanism within law enforcement agencies to ensure he gets to the evidence locker.

“The internal mechanism is really simple,” Scott said. “Every day a supervisor reviews an officer’s reports and in that report, depending on the title, the name, the nature that the sergeant should tell himself, there should be evidence that was found or sought and questioned that officer .”

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WAFB asked both agencies why the missing evidence flew under the radar without being captured. A BRPD spokesman has said in the past that it was up to the officer to do the right thing and get the evidence where it needed to go. Last year, the agency began an internal evidence-based audit and is already making changes. A spokesperson for the agency released the following statement.

In 2021, the Baton Rouge Police Department began an audit and review related to evidence policies and procedures. This review identified several areas for improvement, including audit accountability, oversight accountability, improved training, as well as software and technology upgrades to monitor and assist with accountability and collection. of evidence. As the audit and review continues, the Department continues to make necessary policy improvements.

The Baton Rouge Police Department will continue to be diligent in improving our policies and procedures and will continue to hold accountable those who do not follow BRPD procedures and training. Zeringue’s actions do not mirror those of the Baton Rouge Police Department.

When WAFB asked the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office, the Sheriff said the issue with Zeringue was a one-time issue, but they also made changes because of it. He released the following statement.

We have implemented new procedures to ensure evidence is handled appropriately. We have used new technologies and other resources to make sure the evidence gets to the right place and we also regularly audit the process to ensure its success.

Scott tells WAFB that these changes should make a difference, but even with the best policies in place, some things can still slip through the cracks.

“There are a lot of things that can be done. Is that an absolute cure for a rogue officer going to steal, no,” Scott said.

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