RF police replace storage space with cyberspace

Village signs agreement with Internet auction provider

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By BILL DWYER

For the past five years Detective James Greenwood and his partner Tim Carroll have spent two weeks a year dealing with the legally-required annual process of setting up an auction of unclaimed property recovered by River Forest police.

The inventoried items that inevitably and inconveniently pile up at the River Forest police department run the gamut from bikes and computers to jewelry and cell phones, as well as dozens of other items. The required process not only takes up considerable time and man hours, it takes up space as well, something which is usually at a premium at police stations.

"In the past we spent a lot of time setting up the auction," said Greenwood Monday. "We basically turned the police department into a (retail) store for two weeks."

This spring, however, Greenwood came across an idea that he believes will save most of that time and space and even money for his department. Think of it as a sort of an eBay for cops, though with much tighter restrictions on who can bid. PropertyRoom.com is the brainchild of several former police officers from the west coast. First instituted in 2001, the Internet auction site now matches pre-approved buyers with over 400 police agencies contracted with the firm.

The e-auctions have proved popular on the west and east coasts, but until recently did not have many proponents here in the Midwest, with only Lincolnwood, Glenview, Glencoe and Burr Ridge becoming PropertyRoom.com clients. That all appears about to change, however.

Greenwood convinced his boss, Chief of Police Nicholas Weiss, after a meeting at the Skokie police station in April. Last week the River Forest village board agreed, voting to sign a one year service agreement with ProprtyRoom.com.

Under terms of the contract, PropertyRoom.com picks up all items the department wants auctioned, and, after processing by the firm, they're placed on their web site.

River Forest will receive 50 percent of the first $1,000 of the winning bid, and 75 percent of any portion above $1,000. They only other costs to the village are credit card processing costs, which are shared equally between PropertyRoom.com and the village.

Whether or not the village realizes a significant financial return is not the issue, say both Weiss and Greenwood. The savings will come in far fewer man hours devoted to what is acknowledged as a meager monetary return, not to mention increased available space.

"The day of the auction is costing us money," said Weiss. "More than we're bringing in. Even if we make the same amount as a regular auction, we're going to be ahead of the game."

And the 'game,' Greenwood reiterated, is simply getting rid of all those unwanted material goods that hog loads of interior space.

"The whole reason (for the auctions) is to get property out of the station," Greenwood said. He estimates his department's two property room encompass between 600 and 700 square feet, space he said his department can expect to largely recover for more important uses.

Greenwood expects to hold an Internet auction "three or four times a year," though theoretically River Forest now has the ability to hold auctions as often as needed.

"We can (hold an auction) as often as we need to," he said. "We could do it every month."

And if it doesn't work?

"It's kind of win-win," said Weiss. "If it doesn't work like we anticipate, we'll stop using it."

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