Bill would give New Mexico museums first dibs on unclaimed property

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SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Every year, sheriff’s offices and police departments across New Mexico shove thousands of items into evidence rooms. Now, one lawmaker wants to change the way law enforcement handles those items, including by allowing state museums first dibs on what goes unclaimed.

Some items found by officers or given to police are junk, but among the piles can be a gem that never makes it back to its rightful owner, even after attempts to find them.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque, would alter the current statute about how police handle unclaimed property.

First, it would change the minimum value of what police are required to auction off from $50 to $500. Meaning, if passed, items worth less than $500 could be trashed without court approval — that is, after attempts to locate the owner are unsuccessful and the item is “no longer needed for obtaining a conviction.”

Next, instead of law enforcement waiting three months to destroy or auction those items, police would only have to wait 30 days.

And finally, before selling or destroying any items, state museums can come in and take a look — to see if there’s anything they deem worthy of displaying in their collections.

“That could be an opportunity for museums to maybe capture an item that has great historical value,” Rep. Ruiloba said.

Rep. Ruiloba, a former Albuquerque Police Department officer and current Albuquerque Public Schools resource officer, says evidence rooms across the state are jam-packed with stuff, and that this bill would help clear out what doesn’t need to be there anymore.

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