PUBLIC SAFETY FACILITY — Bicycles. Clothes. Rare coins and jewelry.
Those are just a few of the hundreds of unclaimed items the Santa Monica Police Department auctions off online with the help of an East Coast-based company.
After it’s decided items have no more evidentiary value, the SMPD property unit, which is responsible for receiving, storing, tracking and releasing evidence and property, sends them to PropertyRoom.com. The company was founded by a former New York detective who originally wanted to provide online auction services solely to law enforcement agencies.
Now, PropertyRoom.com caters to more than 2,800 police departments, municipalities, airports, museums and aquariums nationwide.
The SMPD, which was among the first 200 to 300 police departments to use online auctions, has contracted with the company for roughly a decade, said P.J. Bellomo, CEO of PropertyRoom.com, which has its headquarters in Maryland.
“Santa Monica is pretty progressive overall,” he said. “They were way ahead. That is totally cutting-edge thinking.”
In the past, SMPD used to have personnel run an auction at the old headquarters’ parking lot.
Every quarter, SMPD sends off around 250 to 300 items for auction, and that number can fluctuate, said Johnny Tarasut, property/evidence supervisor. Those can be items that come from completed investigations to property that’s been recovered by police or good Samaritans and never claimed.
For every 100 items sent to auction, the department donates 200 items to charity, he said. City Hall has received between $200 to $5,000 every quarter from PropertyRoom.com based on the sale of various items, Tarasut said. The money goes into the city’s General Fund, which pays for essential services like police and fire protection.
The unit tends to see a lot of bicycles turn up, between 50 to 85 bicycles per quarter. That may be because Santa Monica is a big biking town along with Los Angeles and Marina del Rey, Tarasut said.
Clothing stolen from stores is also put on the auction block if the store no longer wants the threads.
The department makes every effort to try and find the owners before property is sent off to auction, Tarasut said.
In the past bikes have been donated to the Samohi Solar Alliance, which fixes them and donates them to needy kids.
Police chiefs are ahead of mayors and bureaucrats of cities in using the Internet to auction off items, said Bellomo, adding police chiefs don’t want their personnel distracted by a retail auction.
Once the items get onto PropertyRoom.com, anyone from the public can bid on them. The typical opening price for everything, except automobiles, is $1. Automobiles start at $100, Bellomo said. In the event a person notices their item is up for auction on the website, the auction is shut down and the item is returned free of charge. That’s happened with class rings, guitars and custom bicycles.
The items aren’t arranged for sale under a specific police department on the website because, logistically, it’s not practical, Bellomo said.
“From a practical standpoint, they’ve [police departments] done their job,” he said. “We like to say ‘we haul away headaches and send back money.’ If I was a citizen of Santa Monica, I don’t want my police department to be a retail auctioneer. That’s not what I want them to be good at.”