Recovering stolen property can be a year-long process

Posted: Monday, September 25, 2006

As if it weren’t enough to have one’s home or business burglarized, then to watch as one’s property is sold on eBay simply adds insult to injury.

That’s precisely what happened to the proprietors of Ellis Automotive in Soldotna last fall.

In addition to thousands of dollars worth of car stereos and stereo equipment, thieves took a valuable piece of automotive diagnostics equipment after breaking into the car repair shop.

“We watched as our Solis scan tool was sold on eBay,” said Brant Ellis, one of the owners of the business.

That was one piece of stolen property that would not be recovered. At least six or seven stereos and a number of sub-woofer speakers, however, were found by police, according to Ellis’ brother, Ryan.

The break-in occurred in September 2005. The property was returned in September this year.

“We try to get the property returned to the owners as expeditiously as possible,” said Soldotna Police Chief John Lucking Jr.

To maintain the integrity of the evidence, however, oftentimes police cannot give back the property until after it is used for the prosecution of apprehended burglars in criminal court.

“It’s the (District Attorney) who gives the OK to release it back to the victims,” said Alaska State Trooper Scott Briggs.

“It could be a couple days to a couple years,” Briggs said.

Kenai Police Sgt. Gus Sandahl said if the stolen property is very important, such as a computer to a business victim, police ask the district attorney’s office to allow them to photograph the property as evidence and return it to the business with the condition that it be made available when the case comes to trial.

Sandahl said getting property back to burglary victims can take as long as one year and and as little as one month.

Returning the property becomes problematic if it has no identifying information on the item, according to Sandahl.

“If there’s no ID on the items, we draft a list and send it to other agencies,” Sandahl said.

Officers might recognize an item reported stolen in a case they are working to solve.

At times, police invite officers from other agencies to the site of a burglary arrest to see if they recognize anything, according to Sandahl.

While burglary victims are not compensated for damage done during a break-in or for property that is taken, losses may be covered by insurance.

In the Ellis Automotive burglary, the business was insured, but Brant Ellis said trying to get a replacement for the stolen diagnostics scanner was problematic at first.

The equipment is critical to troubleshooting engine malfunctions of newer vehicles.

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