OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The discovery of drug evidence dating to the 1970s prompted an ultimatum from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to law enforcement agencies to help clear out its warehouse.
The order is working. Three-fourths of the state's law enforcement agencies have authorized the bureau to destroy more than 90 percent of their old evidence. More than 10 tons of drugs were destroyed last month.
The agency told law enforcement agencies in August that it won't store drug evidence for more than two years without a good reason.
"It was getting a little crowded," said Darrel Wilkins, the bureau's criminalistics division director.
Piles of evidence represented almost 50,000 cases from some 700 law enforcement agencies. The material was stacked to the ceiling of the 3,500-square-foot warehouse.
The change in policy came after the OSBI found the items connected to cases that were more than 20 years old.
One case involves some "mushroom-like" substance confiscated from an Oklahoma State University student in 1979. That evidence remains sealed in a brown envelope inside a cardboard box with other envelopes, such as one containing marijuana seized in 1975 by Oklahoma City police.
Before the new order, itemized evidence lists were mailed each year to departments, asking them if the evidence could be destroyed. Only about 50 percent of the departments responded.
Besides dealing with space problems, the bureau wants to get rid of the inventory because it is trying to become one of 200 nationally accredited labs. Accreditation helps prosecutors in court cases.
Stringent guidelines must be followed, including more training, better instruments and evidence handling. All evidence containers must be properly sealed.
"It would just take too much manpower to continually check every envelope and box," bureau spokeswoman Kym Koch said.
The OSBI does the testing on seized drugs for law enforcement agencies, which can get the evidence returned. But many don't have the space.
Lt. Donnie Anderson of the Garvin County Sheriff's Department said security is also a consideration.
"When we give the drugs to them (OSBI), there's a paper trail and they destroy it when we're done with the case," Anderson said. "I think there could be real problems if local law enforcement stored and destroyed their own drugs."
Until a state law was changed two years ago, the bureau was required to store entire quantities of seized drugs. Wilkins remembers the 17,000 pounds of marijuana brought to the warehouse by state troopers after they busted two Chicago men near McAlester.
Now, the bureau needs only a representative sample of drugs fo rcourt cases.
The warehouse is emptying out, although boxes containing baled marijuana and cocaine, as well as chemicals, still line the shelves.