For several decades, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office’s evidence storage facility kept several items seized as evidence and never returned to their owners.

Recently, deputies have worked to return those items, used in crimes or suicides, to their rightful owners, but not all of the items can be returned, Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley said.

“Our people — that are involved in the management of the evidence room — have been going through it, in an attempt to document and inventory everything that we have,” O’Malley said. “We have property in our evidence locker that goes back to 1982, so it hasn’t been managed well in the past, and we are trying to make up for that and stay on top of it.”

The Sheriff’s Office attempted to contact all the known owners of, or people interested in, the seized property to come and reclaim it, he said. Items the office could not return would have to be disposed of.

O’Malley spoke with the County Attorney’s Office and District Court Judge Tori Kricken to go ahead and dispose of them, he said.

“There were attempts made to contact people of interest or owners of all the property that are known,” O’Malley said. “People that had interest in anything were able to contact our office, go out to inspect and determine or not whether they have an interest in the property that might be theirs.”

The items the Sheriff’s Office are trying to remove or get rid of include about 80 firearms that could not be returned to owners, he said. O’Malley said he contacted the legal counsel for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and discussed selling all the guns in one package to dealers rather than individually to private parties.

“I spoke with (the bureau’s) legal counsel regarding the ability for us to put together a notice for bid as a group of 83 firearms and invite licensed gun dealers to inspect and place a bid on those,” he said. “We are not in the business of firearms dealing, so we are not looking into auctioning to private parties or things like that.”

Albany County Commission Chairman Tim Chesnut said he is in support of having firearms dealers bid on the weapons, because it removes liability from the county if one of the weapons is misused.

“I appreciated the part (where dealers are brought in), we don’t want a gun out there that we sold killing some kid,” Chesnut said.

Along with removing liability from the county, gun dealers are better equipped to sell the weapons than the county is, County Commissioner Heber Richardson said.

“Anyone that would purchase one from a gun dealer would go through background checks and go through the process,” Richardson said. “It is interesting that we, as law enforcement, are less well equipped to do that then a firearms dealer.”

O’Malley said selling the firearms could help search and rescue funding, which the county is expects to no longer receive from Title III in the federal Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which was not reauthorized by congress. Previously, the act provided funding for counties containing national forests, and in Albany County provided the Sheriff’s Office with funding for search and rescue, Albany County Treasurer Linda Simpson said.

While this funding was available, the Sheriff’s Office purchased equipment such as off-road vehicles the office can use in a variety of weather conditions and equipment to keep people warm while they use that equipment, O’Malley said. Selling the firearms to a dealer could help the county bring in some money for search and rescue, he said.

“After talking with Simpson, it sounds like our Title III funding might be going away … if it goes away it is going to present a hardship,” O’Malley said. “Part of this proposal is to allow us to take the proceeds, of the disposal of firearms, and convert it to the use of the use of the Sheriff’s Office for the Search and Rescue Fund, so that that can be utilized to supplement the equipment.”

O’Malley said he is not sure how much the weapons are worth.

“I have no concept of how much money that might be,” O’Malley said.

“It could be a couple of thousands of dollars. Some of the weapons are in relatively poor condition, others are in excellent condition, the firearms dealers have the ability to inspect and give us a bid.”

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