Properly Drawn Inventory Procedure and Followed Strictly Limits Discretion of Individual Police Officers

In People v. Galak, 80 N.Y.2d 715, 715, 594 N.Y.S.2d 689, 610 N.E.2d 362 the Court of Appeals rejected an inventory search on facts quite similar to those of the instant case. In that case the officer testified that the department procedure required that he take into police custody certain items and return others to the owners. Asked to describe the standards for determining what items were returned, he said; "It depends. Like I said, if there is money or valuables, the defendant will usually take them." The officer did not make a complete inventory of personal property contained in the vehicle. The inventory form utilized by the police department caused the officers to record only the items taken and retained by the police. The form did not indicate whether items were left in the car. The court held that because there was no usable inventory created to satisfy the purpose of an inventory search, that the search was illegal. The court noted that a detailed and carefully recorded inventory is required because it justifies the inventory by doing what an inventory is supposed to do; to identify all property in police hands to facilitate accurate processing of claims of loss, theft or vandalism. The procedure utilized in Galak, supra, was so unrelated to the underlying justification for inventory searches that it was considered arbitrary and irrational. The procedure was also flawed by the impermissible level of discretion given to the searching officer. The court noted that a properly drawn inventory procedure which is strictly followed limits discretion to avoid the probability that the search of a citizen's personal effects will be conducted on personal preferences of the individual officers.