THE INVESTIGATORS: Two law enforcement agencies strengthen policy after evidence goes missing for months
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - The 9News Investigators have learned two different law enforcement agencies have strengthened their policy after missing evidence flew under the radar for months. The officer accused of taking the evidence mentioned the drugs and guns in his reports but for some reason nobody caught it. Former officer Benjamin Zeringue worked for both the Baton Rouge Police Department and the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office. He was accused of taking evidence from both agencies.
He was accused of stealing synthetic marijuana at the sheriff’s office back in January last year but it wasn’t flagged until months later in June when the case went to court and the evidence was nowhere to be found. At BRPD, he was accused of taking guns from traffic stops in 2018 and 2019. In that case, the alleged theft wasn’t discovered until four years later when kids found the guns dumped in a trash pile in Central in April 2022. In both of these cases, the officer did mention the evidence in his reports but what he confiscated was never turned in.
Law enforcement expert Dr. Andrew Scott is a former police chief and has more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement. He says having evidence missing for months or years is unacceptable.
“This is a real dilemma in law enforcement and it shouldn’t be happening and there’s no reason for it to happen,” said Scott.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked Scott if there should be some kind of internal mechanism within law enforcement agencies to make sure that it does get to the evidence locker.
“The internal mechanism is really simple,” said Scott. “Every day a supervisor is reviewing an officer’s reports and in that report, depending on the title, the name the nature the sergeant should be saying to him or herself there should be some evidence that either was found or looked for and to query that officer.”
WAFB asked both agencies why the missing evidence flew under the radar without being caught. A spokesperson with BRPD said in the past, it has been up to the officer to do the right thing and get the evidence where it needs to go. Last year the agency began an internal audit related to evidence 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 determined several areas of improvement, including audit accountability, supervisory accountability, enhanced training, as well as software and technology upgrades to monitor and assist with accountability and evidence collection. As the audit and review remains ongoing, the department continues to make the necessary policy improvements.
The Baton Rouge Police Department will continue to be diligent in improving our policies and procedures and will continue to hold those accountable who fail to follow BRPD procedures and training. Zeringue’s actions do not reflect those of the Baton Rouge Police Department.
When WAFB asked the West Feliciana Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff said the problem with Zeringue was a one-time issue but they too have made changes because of it. He issued the following statement.
We have put new procedures in place to ensure that evidence is handled appropriately. We have used new technology and other resources to ensure that the evidence makes it to the right place and we also regularly audit the process to ensure its success.
Scott tells WAFB those changes should make a difference but even with the best policies in place, some things may still slip through the cracks.
“There’s a lot of things that can be done. Is it an absolute cure all for a rogue officer that’s going to steal, no,” said Scott.
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