WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – An investigation by WECT found that more than half of the paperwork used to check out surveillance equipment from the Wilmington Police Department has incomplete information, making it difficult to track who is responsible for the equipment.
For the past two months WECT has been trying to learn what happened to a video camera used in an undercover prostitution sting. In December, several months after the sting, it was reported as missing, but Police Chief Ralph Evangelous admits anything could be possible when it comes to how the camera disappeared.
The undercover sting became the subject of an internal investigation by the police department recently, resulting in disciplinary action against some officers and a restructuring of the narcotics unit. Evangelous says some used alcohol above acceptable standards on the sting, but did not break the law.
The Wilmington Police Department's policy manual sets out specific guidelines for the process of checking out and returning equipment.
According to the policy manual, "supervisory personnel will check out equipment necessary for surveillance to the appropriate personnel. Those personnel whom have been assigned equipment will return the equipment to a supervisor. A sign in/sign out log will be maintained that portrays which personnel were assigned surveillance equipment."
In 2012, the WPD's equipment log shows 87 instances where gear was signed out, and WECT found 49 entries that lacked all the information required to be filled out. 44 entries do not list a serial number for the piece of equipment that was checked out. Instead, it only lists a general description of the item such as video, wire, or camcorder.
Additionally, 14 entries to the log do not reflect that the equipment was ever returned. One piece of equipment that has not been returned according to the log doesn't even have a signature of the person who checked the item out.
The sign in/sign out log does not shed any new details on equipment used in the botched undercover operation. WPD officials have said the operation started Friday, March 16, 2012 and lasted until the next day.
Only one piece of equipment was checked out during that time period. A cell brite, which is used to take data off a cell phone, was checked out on March 14 and returned on March 20, though the WPD would not confirm if that was used in the operation.
Police Chief Ralph Evangelous has said at least two small cameras were used in the operation, with one reported as missing. In a press conference last month, Evangelous addressed allegations that the camera was stolen by one of his officers.
"At this point I believe that it was potentially lost," Evangelous said. "Could it have been stolen? I guess it could have been. Anything is possible."
Shortly after that press conference, the chief asked District Attorney Ben David to call for an SBI investigation into potential criminal activity by his department. The SBI confirmed the investigation but will not elaborate on who or what they are investigating.
Evangelous says that an internal investigation by the department made him aware of serious lack of attention to detail within the department.
Due to the pending SBI investigation, the police department said they are not in a position to comment on this issue.
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