BIKES, phones, wallets, wedding rings, albums and even alternative artwork, you never know what is going to turn up in the Cork City Garda Divisional property store.
Run by garda, David Barry, it sees a great deal of equipment and personal items come through its doors on a daily basis as well as evidence such as drugs and weapons.
Garda Barry is responsible for logging each and every item in the store and making sure it is close to hand if and when needed.
Bikes and phones are the two most frequent items that make their way to the Garda store and unfortunately not many of them find their way back to their owners.
Around 800 mobile phones are reported lost or stolen annually in Cork city, with another 200 found and recovered by gardaí.
While gardaí make efforts to return phones to their owners many remain in the Garda store for the year before they are eventually destroyed.
Garda Barry says up to 200 bikes are stored each year in the property division but again, very few make it back to their owners. In the case of bicycles they are eventually sent to Dublin for auction.
The next lost and found auction is on Thursday, August 24 at Wilsons Auctions in Dublin.
“All property is retained for a year and a day and it gets disposed of then,” Garda Barry said.
“Evidence is kept until the end of a trial and then there is a court order for it to be destroyed,” he said.
When items are delivered to me from the other stations, I log into the system and put a reminder on each item for 365 days.
“The vast majority of what we get in here is destroyed because it is of no retail value really.”
Garda Barry said anything that is of value and is not claimed, such as clothes, toys, etc are given to charity.
“Anything half decent is given away.”
Garda Barry said the reason so few phones make it back to their owners is because people do not keep a record of their International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, which is on the back of your mobile phone.
“This number is vital for tracing your phone, checking if it is on our system or identifying a phone that has been found,” he said.
Despite this easy process, many simply don’t do it and after 12 months and a day, a number of expensive and fully-functioning smartphones are destroyed.
“The phones get destroyed because you can’t give them away due to the personal data on them.
“We looked into the possibility of wiping them but it turned out to be time-consuming and not cost effective.”
He said some phone companies are very helpful in getting phones back to their owners.
“Apple are brilliant. I get an iPhone, read off the IMEI, email Apple and they are generally back within 24 hours with contact details of the owner of the phone.”
Often, some detective work is required. “I look at the SD card and sometimes it can lead to identification. One time there was a picture of a car on the card and I found the car owner, rang them and they knew who owned the phone.”
Another time Garda Barry saw a picture of a payslip on an SD card, rang the place of work and tracked down the individual through her PRSI number.
Bikes are another thing that could be easily returned to owners if a record was made of the serial number that is displayed on the bike.
“We store up to 200 bikes a year and few are returned to their owners,” Garda Barry said. “In the six years I have been Property Exhibit management System (PEMS) manager, I would say I have returned just half a dozen bikes.”
As well as phones and bikes, sets of keys turn up on a regular basis.
“I would say, we get about 10-12 sets of keys a year in the office as well as numerous wallets, which usually get returned.
“Nowadays there are enough cards and IDs in wallets that it is easy enough to identify the owner.”
Garda Barry said they often see surges of items coming into them at busy celebratory times of the year, such as Christmas, Easter and Bank Holidays.
It is unfortunate but Garda Barry said people do not seem to be looking after their property and it might even be a sign of a disposable society.
“People are very ambivalent about property. I don’t understand it. They are very complacent about valuables.
“Some people don’t even bother trying to trace their items. You might ring an owner about a piece of property you have found belonging to them and they don’t care, they didn’t report it missing and they don’t bother coming to collect it.”
Garda Barry said it is something that used to bother him, but after six years, he had gotten used to the attitude that some people have towards their personal effects.
“It used to annoy me, you might ring someone a couple of times about something and they just wouldn’t get back to you.
“You might arrange for people to come in and most won’t bother to collect their stuff.
“I have learned that you can’t babysit people. People have a personal responsibility to mind their stuff, the same way they have a personal responsibility to mind their personal safety.”
Of course, there are those that do collect their items and are extremely thankful and appreciative to Garda Barry for joining the dots to trace the item back to the person.
“It is nice to give stuff back.”
All evidence that is currently needed for court cases is also kept at the Garda store. From drugs to weapons, Garda Barry is well equipped for every eventuality.
“The drugs are normally small seizures and there are a number of firearms and knives here as well as other things that were used as weapons such as a crowbar, sledge hammer, slashers and even a bullhook.
As well as this, the Garda interviews that are recorded are also stored in the Cork City Divisional Property Store.
“The Garda tapes, which are now on discs, are stored here. There are three copies made: the master copy, which is sealed, the working copy and the interviewee copy, which can be requested by the defendant in a trial.
“These tapes are retained locally for five years before being sent to the national stores in Dublin.
All the tapes are kept indefinitely, while evidence from a court case is often destroyed.
“Usually anything from a minor case is destroyed, but evidence from a major case, such as armed robberies, aggravated assaults, rape or murder are kept in the national stores in Dublin in the event of an appeal.
Working as the PEMS manager involves a lot of paperwork.
“It is a lot like being a shopkeeper,” Garda Barry said. “It is all about organisation and management, with a bit of customer service.”
Garda Barry said every day he comes in and goes through the voicemails left on the public phone for lost and found.
“Sometimes you could have 20 messages, sometimes you might only have one or two but, you go through them all and follow up on them.
Being neat and tidy is an obvious advantage in this line of work and Garda Barry said he definitely fits the profile.
“I wouldn’t be OCD or anything, but I am definitely neat and tidy. I like things to be in order.”
Cork’s Garda property store is a treasure trove of lost phones, bikes and violins, along with weapons, drugs and evidence for serious crimes. Roisín Burke gets a tour and speaks to the man in charge of it all.