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Originally published June 29, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 29, 2009 at 12:59 PM

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Seattle Police seized-items auctions make more online

The King County Sheriff's Office and Seattle Police Department are among 1,600 law-enforcement agencies that sell unclaimed items from their property rooms through the Web site PropertyRoom.com.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Inside the Seattle Police Department's property room, rows of bicycles, Christmas decorations, wheelchairs and other unclaimed or seized items gather dust until they're put up for auction. But bargain hunters no longer have to wait for police, or the King County Sheriff's Office, to schedule a public auction to score a deal. They now merely need to log onto a computer.

Seattle police and the Sheriff's Office contract with PropertyRoom.com, a California-based Web site that receives items from the property rooms of 1,600 law-enforcement agencies in the U.S. — 124 in Washington state — and sells them online.

Proceeds are split between the police departments and the Web site.

Before, the Seattle Police Department and Sheriff's Office periodically held auctions to sell off unclaimed items — and there wasn't even a guarantee they could sell it all.

"It's a lot easier for them [PropertyRoom.com] to come and take it all than for us to auction it off," said sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart "It's a very efficient way to dispose of excess property we get."

"It's a very green way to do it," added Cindy Granard, detective sergeant of evidence for Seattle police. "It's recycling old material and giving it to someone new."

When Granard wants to give items to PropertyRoom.com, she compiles a list and calls the Web site, which sends a truck to get them. The truck then takes the items to a facility in Seattle, where they move from one truck to another that goes to PropertyRoom.com's processing facility in Los Angeles.

"We usually wait until we have pallets full of stuff before we give to them." Granard said.

Once the items arrive in Los Angeles, Gemological Institute of America-trained specialists look over items containing precious stones to ensure they are real. They are then listed for auction on the Web site.

Once an item sells, the originating law-enforcement agency receives 50 percent of the proceeds if the item sells for less than $1,000, and 75 percent if it's more than $1,000.

Since using PropertyRoom.com starting in July 2003, Seattle police have seen their profits go up. From 2004 to 2005, for example, police recorded about a $28,000 increase in auction profit. In 2004, the department's auction profit was $29,951. In 2005, it was $57,974.

Proceeds from the sale go toward the department's pension fund.

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PropertyRoom.com is set up as a kind of eBay for police auctions. Items are sold in categories including jewelry, fine art, tools, bicycles, watches and "everything else." The site was founded by former police officers, including Daryl Gates, former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, according to its Web site.

Since many of the items were stolen but never reclaimed, PropertyRoom.com will return them to their owners provided they can prove ownership of an item shown online.

When the site started in 2001, it had contracts with 100 departments and profits of $3 million. Now, the company has contracts with nearly 2,000 departments, 25,000 new bidders each month, and last year reported a profit of $35 million, according to company spokeswoman Cher Murphy.

Armando Montaño: 206-464-2347 or amontano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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