TO: Rex Barton, MTAS Police Consultant
FROM: Sid Hemsley, MTAS Senior Law Consultant
DATE: December 17, 1996 (updated October 2017)
SUBJ: Disposition of Unclaimed Lost or Abandoned Personal Property in Possession of Police Department
Your question is, what disposition can a city make of unclaimed lost or abandoned personal property in the possession of the police department, such as, but not limited to, money, bicycles, automobiles, etc.?
All personal unclaimed lost or abandoned personal property in the possession of the police department from whatever source should be disposed of in accordance with the Uniform Unclaimed Property Act (UUPA), and Tennessee Administrative Reg. Chapter 1700-02-01-.01 et seq. However, the best easy reference to the disposition of such property is Tennessee Attorney General's Opinion 91-10, in which your precise question was asked, and, in my opinion, correctly answered.
Note that Tennessee Administrative Reg. 1700-02-01-.20 provides that:
Everything reported [to the State Treasurer] must be delivered to the State Treasurer unless, in his discretion the State Treasurer determines that it is not in the interest of the State to take custody of the property and authorizes the holder, in writing, to dispose of the property.
The State Treasurer can simply drop the unclaimed lost or abandoned property back into the lap of the city if it chooses to do so.
I realize that the UUPA is probably regularly "violated," particularly with respect to bicycles and perhaps a variety of other property that comes into the possession of a city through means other than confiscation or forfeiture. However, the UUPA appears to cover all unclaimed lost or abandoned personal property no matter how it came into a city’s possession.
Confiscated weapons are disposed of in accordance with Tennessee Code Annotated, section 39-17-1317. However, arguably some confiscated weapons can become unclaimed lost or abandoned property. Tennessee Code Annotated, section 39-17-1317 provides that, "A law enforcement agency possessing a weapon declared contraband, retained as evidence in an official proceeding, secured after being abandoned, or surrendered by someone other than the owner shall use best efforts to determine whether the weapon has been lost by or stolen or borrowed from an innocent owner, and if so, the agency shall return the weapon to the owner, if ascertainable, unless that person is ineligible to possess, receive, or purchase such weapon under state or federal law." Presumably, any such weapon that its owner fails to reclaim becomes unclaimed abandoned property. The same is probably true of any other stolen or borrowed property, including motor vehicles, that, for one reason or another, their owners do not reclaim.