Watch any episode of CSI and you'd think the police process, collect, analyze and reach conclusions about crime evidence in an hour - with coffee breaks and commercial breaks thrown in.
But the reality is evidence is often dirty, cumbersome, incomplete and may need to be stored for years, if not decades.
The Burnaby RCMP's evidence and exhibits area is one of the most tightly controlled areas in the main detachment.
From the moment an officer brings in evidence and places it in a locker to the time exhibit staff process, label and store the evidence, cameras are capturing every move.
The Burnaby NOW was recently given a tour of the Burnaby RCMP's evidence and exhibits area by Chief Supt. Dave Critchley, and it was hard not to marvel at how extensive and comprehensive the infrastructure surrounding the evidence is.
There are actually four separate areas where evidence is maintained, and the chain of custody must remain unbroken at all times so that the evidence can be presented properly in court.
We start in the exhibit office, where all evidence collected by police is logged in. Officers can come in at any time and put their evidence in one of 50-plus secure lockers. Larger items, including cars or any items using gasoline, are secured in a downstairs garage.
After officers fill out their appropriate paperwork, exhibit staff start processing the evidence.
Const. Kuljinder Sidhu is dropping off a passport and some identification that is immediately logged in by Const. Jessica Simons. The evidence is put in a clear plastic sealed bag with a label, and Sidhu signs off on the paperwork for this evidence.
Simons is one of several employees working in the area, with the most senior person having three decades of service.
Simons can't help but laugh when asked what the most unusual item brought in recently.
"Check this out," said Simons as she brings out an umbrella.
What makes the umbrella a public safety risk is that the handle is a replica of the butt of a rifle, meaning a quick glance at the umbrella and you might think you're seeing something a bit more nefarious.
"The officer who brought this in has cited this as a public safety risk," said Simons. "He's asked for it to be destroyed. We'll process it and let it go through the process."
It's not usually that easy for the exhibit staff because in a normal year, they may be asked to process anywhere between 12,000 and 60,000 exhibits. And while an umbrella looking like a rifle is rather compact, one exhibit can be as complex as a whole truckfull of stolen tools or an entire basement of grow-op equipment, marijuana plants or crystal meth.
With so many items coming in, you'd think the police would run out of room to store everything, but each month, approximately 1,000 items are destroyed or returned to their rightful owners.
"Either we don't need them any more, or in the case of stolen property items, we get them back to the original owners," said Critchley.
And then there's the bloodstained items.
Critchley said evidence stained with blood or other biological hazards are often important in court cases and unlike on television, where a CSI does the lab work in a state-of-the-art police facility, the work is farmed out to a secure local lab.
But the storage of items is still the work of the exhibits staff, and that's why drying racks and secure refrigeration areas are needed.
From the main exhibits office, we are taken to the room where larger items or items that need to be dried are stored. The room is non-descript, but there are cameras that cover every inch of the room.
From this area, we're led into another locked room, perhaps the most secure place in the entire building.
"This is where we store seized firearms, ammunition and knives," said Critchley as Const. Melissa Wutke shows off some of the items in the room.
Knives are stored in separate lockboxes, right beside the rifles and handguns, which are all individually stored in labelled bags. In the corner are more lockboxes in which ammunition is stored.
It all looks pretty innocent because the guns, knives and ammunition are covered, but look in the rolling locked cage, and you'll see the items that are scheduled for destruction.
"These guns are headed for the crusher," said Wutke. "Every couple of months, or when the cage gets full, two officers take the cage to the crusher, and they personally watch it get destroyed."
Wutke then makes a small circle with her fingers to show how small the end pieces from the crusher are.
From this room, we head into the main storage area, where literally thousands of exhibits, boxed or bagged, are stored on shelves according to year.
The sticky note with the oldest date is 1985, but the oldest evidentiary items in the Burnaby evidence area go back to an unsolved homicide from 1969.
"That's the thing with evidence," said Critchley, "you have to keep holding on to it because you might need it. ... It's not like Wal-Mart where you order in an item, and you sell it and then you order in more items. ... Plus, what we do get in can be anything. It might be dirty, it might be bloody, it might be broken glass or it might be a whole grow op. We have to process every piece and account for it so that the custody chain is never broken."
The detachment recently received approximately $100,000 to upgrade its evidence facilities and that money has been put to good use. A new refrigeration unit goes beside the older unit and the shelving can all be manipulated with a crank of a wheel.
As our tour continues, we pass by the locked room where cold case homicide files and evidence are stored.
According to Wutke, the files and evidence in that room can be kept for 99 years.
Our last stop is the garage, where cars, lawnmowers, bikes and motorcycles are stored.
"Anything that uses gas, we have to store in a safe place and for employee health and safety," said Critchley.
In one corner of the garage is a locked cage where tools, bikes, computer hard drives and everything in between is stored.
"Those tools in the corner, they're all part of the same theft or group of thefts," said Wutke. "Once we process all of it and we don't need it any more, hopefully, we'll get it back to their original owners."
Critchley is immensely proud of the work the exhibits staff do.
"This is hard work," he said. "It's dirty, you're dealing with blood, you're dealing with sometimes incomplete items. ... And you have to make sure the continuity chain is never broken and that somebody can always account for where that piece (of evidence) is. It's hard, challenging work, and I believe our team is one of the best."
As we head back to the main office for the end of our tour, Simons has brought out the proverbial kitchen sink, another piece of evidence in a case.
"Yes, we do get it all around here," she said.