Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Court Clerk Running Out of Room for Criminal Evidence

Current storage space at dilapidated Safety Building is insufficient.

By - Aug 15th, 2023 10:34 am

Milwaukee County Safety Building. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

The Milwaukee County Clerk of Circuit Courts is running out of storage for illegal guns and drugs entered as evidence in criminal trials.

Clerk of Circuit Courts Anna Maria Hodges recently appeared before a county committee evaluating projects for next year’s county budget and asked members to reconsider her office’s request.

On its face, Hodges and her office are asking county policymakers to fund a consolidation of four storage areas for trial exhibits into one. But, as Hdges explained, the project is really about ensuring that her office can continue to fulfill its mandate as set forth in state law.

The office has four storage rooms housed in the county’s Safety Building, 821 W. State St., which the county has needed to replace for years. Two of these rooms are full and another two are facing “considerable issues,” Hodges told the county’s Capital Improvements Committee on Aug. 10.

One of them is used to store illegal guns and drugs, and Hodges said her office thinks they have about six months before it is completely full. The other, which mostly holds exhibits, is regularly flooding. Some materials have been water damaged and the damp conditions are breeding mold, she said.

In 2017, the Milwaukee County Board approved a plan to demolish the Safety Building and construct there a new criminal courthouse. The safety building had been found beyond its useful life and inappropriate for continued operations. The facility was originally built as a jail and this makes rehabbing for different uses difficult. In 2018, the cost for the whole project including demolition and construction was estimated at about $341 to $367 million. Inflation has undoubtedly driven the cost higher since then.

Hodges and her office are asking for approximately $114,000 for this project, with approximately 20% for design costs. The plan, as she explained it, is to move everything that must be stored on-site to a single, larger room in the facility.

So we are at a point where we have no space,” Hodges said. “And I’m very concerned at this point that we have no place to store those sensitive items like guns and drugs.”

Sup. Steve Taylor, a member of the ad hoc committee comprised of both county and non-county officials which makes recommendations on the budget, asked whether it might be possible to build out the room at the county courthouse or consider off-site storage for the criminal evidence, given there are already plans to demolish the Safety Building at some point.

The clerk of courts has to maintain exhibits for a certain period of time to allow for the appeals process, Hodges said, and the office already stores some files off-site. But for some items, like illegal guns and drugs, it would not be appropriate to let them out of the office’s custody, she said. Stuart Carron, director of facilities management for the county, noted that it would likely be just as expensive, potentially more so, to move the criminal evidence storage to the courthouse.

On an annual basis, we probably spend half a million in bandaids in [the safety building] just to keep it running for the occupant departments like the clerks,” Carron said. “And this would be viewed as another band-aid until we get out seven years to the point where we have that new building.”

Like many other things in the Safety Building, the rooms that are being used to store sensitive criminal evidence like guns and drugs were described by Hodges as “not the best setup” even before the office started running out of space. It works, but she said, “I don’t consider it to be the most safe or secure situation.”

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us