“Cellphone, cellphone, wallet, cellphone, car keys, wallet, wallet. . . . Underwater scooter.”
So began a visit last week to the Sag Harbor Village Police Department’s property room, where everything that people turn in as “found property,” or that officers happen to find while on patrol, awaits reunion with its owner. The property room is a short distance down the hall from the evidence room; in between, a couple of bicycles lean against the corridor wall, also waiting to be claimed.
“You make every attempt” to help people get their stuff back, says Chief Austin J. McGuire. Sgt. Michael Labrozzi “has been spending a lot of time returning things. Passport? Bring it to the post office. Debit card? Bring it to the bank.”
But that underwater scooter, he said, probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
It’s much the same in East Hampton Town, East Hampton Village, and every other local law enforcement agency. Calling the police to report finding something, or to search for something that’s been misplaced, is small-town America’s lost-and-found system.
A problem, says Officer Raymond Rau, manager of the town police property room, is that people don’t always think to call when they’ve lost something valuable. That’s how the department has wound up with dozens of items — not just wallets and cellphones, but also a laptop, a wedding band, a pale blue Coach handbag, a Covid vaccine card, an Ecuadorean passport — in its own locker. There’s a secure outdoor yard where the bigger stuff, like kayaks and surfboards, is kept.
“It’s surprising that people don’t call to check,” Officer Rau said.
How long found property is kept depends on its type and value. Under $100, an item is held for three months; up to $499, that goes up to six months. It’s one year for items ranging from $500 to $4,999, three years if they’re worth more than $5,000. After the prescribed length of time, the finder can claim it and become the keeper; if not, then the police can choose to auction it off or destroy it.
In December, for example, a Sag Harbor woman got to keep a pair of leaf blowers she’d found the year before. But firearms and munitions — maybe someone found his grandfather’s old ammo while cleaning the basement, Officer Rau said — are turned over to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office for destruction.
Exclusions include the driver’s licenses, passports, credit cards, and cellphones. “I’d love to get those back to people,” Officer Rau said. “I’ll take messages from anyone.” He’ll send letters and make phone calls, but in many cases, it seems like a lost cause.
Found license plates are usually destroyed. Their owners “have probably just gone back to the D.M.V.,” he said.
Sifting through a box of iPhones, Officer Rau implored people to turn on the “Find my iPhone” feature with which all Apple devices come equipped. “Please set up the ‘Ping.’ That will help,” he advised.
Chief McGuire, who spent 16 years with the East Hampton Town police before his appointment in Sag Harbor, recalled that someone in East Hampton once turned in sex toys. Another legendary local find was a 15-foot-tall giraffe sculpture which, after popping up here and there over many years, was last seen at the village nature trail in the spring of 2016. It was auctioned off in 2017.
“That was one of the most interesting found pieces of property ever,” said Sgt. Steven Sheades of the village police. “At the time, I was a detective, and I went there and we tried to figure it out. We found the owner, but he didn’t want anything to do with that and the publicity. It was an interesting time. That stayed in our impound yard for quite some time, overlooking the chain-link fence like a greeter.”
There’s a difference, Sergeant Sheades said, between someone misplacing something and someone stealing it.
“When something is stolen, the person is pretty specific on how and why they believe it was stolen. Some people do say, ‘My wallet was stolen because I left it here and now it’s not here.’ Generally, those things are lost or misplaced.”
Right now, in the East Hampton Village police property locker, a brown leather trifold wallet containing $320 in cash has been waiting for its owner since 2006.
Usually, Sergeant Sheades said, the lost-and-found system works well.
“If we have the property, and someone calls, they end up getting it back at some point. It’s definitely beneficial to the public — it’s something that we can provide for them.”
Officer Rau agreed. “There’s a happy feeling when people get their stuff back.”