The Missoula Police Department is in possession of 7,000 pieces of property that it doesn’t want or need, but until Monday night had no authority to sell, give away or destroy.

Some of the items were confiscated during criminal investigations. Some were found by citizens and turned into police. Some were saved as possible evidence in cases that have since been resolved.

All are unwanted and unclaimed.

“They smack us in the face every day,” Capt. Chris Odlin told the Missoula City Council. “And we’re about to have to move them.”

Missoula is not alone in its unclaimed property woes. The Great Falls Police Department told a similar story to that city’s commissioners recently.

The solution came from the 2017 Montana Legislature, which authorized local governments – by adopting a resolution – to “provide for the care, restitution, sale, donation, return or destruction of unclaimed tangible personal property that may come into the possession of a peace officer or a law enforcement entity of the local government.”

So that’s what Odlin asked for and unanimously received from the City Council: a resolution authorizing Missoula police to enact a policy for disposing of unclaimed property, as provided for by the state Legislature.

At a minimum, the policy will include these provisions:

  • Unclaimed property valued at $20 or more must be held by the MPD for at least three months.
  • Police must attempt to notify the legal owner of the unclaimed property.
  • Upon proof of legal ownership, Missoula police shall restore unclaimed property to its legal owner.
  • Police must allow the finder of unclaimed personal property to take possession of that property if it remains unclaimed.
  • Unclaimed property will be “destroyed as allowed or required by local, state or federal law, returned to the finder, donated or otherwise returned to the finder, donated or otherwise sold at public auction to the highest bidder.”
  • At least 10 days prior to the time set for the destruction, return, donation or sale at public auction of unclaimed property, notice must be given by publication one time in a newspaper of general circulation.