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June 17, 2004

World Trade Center Personal Property Update

Because there have been so many questions regarding personal property, Families of September 11 was invited to attend a meeting with Inspector Jack Trabitz, Commanding Officer of the New York City Police Department’s Property Clerk’s division and Chief Joseph McGrann, Commanding Officer of the Support Services Bureau to get an update as to the status of personal property that may have been recovered as a result of the World Trade Center disaster.  We are presenting this update, focusing on some of the most common questions.

Background:  The Property Clerk’s Office is a division of the New York Police Department.  While personnel from the Property Clerk’s Office were handling the issue of personal effects immediately after 9-11, the staff, like all other NYPD personnel, was also involved in rescue, recovery and security for months.

How many items were recovered?

An exact number of items is not know but may have been as high as 70,000 to 100,000 items, some of which were remnants and pieces.  These were collected at three locations – Fresh Kills, Ground Zero and the Medical Examiner’s office.  Many items were brought in together and given one invoice.  A total of 26,779 invoices were issued. Thus far approximately 70% of what was received has been connected with/returned to a claimant. 

The remaining 8,100 invoices, containing between 1 and dozens of item(s) are currently being evaluated and are subject to decontamination and other procedures.

What was returned was what was most easily identifiable. What remains is what is most challenging to identify.

What was the process?

Insofar as was possible, each item that was recovered was bar-coded, scanned and data-entried.   Every item was catalogued with its own investigative sheet.  The items have ranged from credit cards and wallets to pieces of jewelry, items that have been so extensively damaged that determining what they are has proven very difficult.

Procedures for photographs are currently being formulated in a joint operation between the Port Authority of NY/NJ and the NYPD. Please note that, due to peculiarities of the law, any photographs recovered, say from the desks, are in possession of the Port Authority, not of the Property Clerk Division of the NYPD.

How do they insure the “rightful owner”?


The Property Clerk’s office has returned that which is easily identifiable to those individuals who have been able to show that they are either the owner of that object (through records, invoices and other ID’s) or those who have been designated the next of kin or legal representative of the decedent.  Please note that the NYPD does NOT make a determination as to who the rightful claimant is except to follow the ruling of the surrogate court in the case of a decedent.  In other words, if several people make a claim on an item, the courts will have decided who has the “rights” to that claim.

Why isn’t there a viewing of the items or a website?

 

Keeping a viewing area free of false claimants or macabre “thrill-seekers” is part of the issue.  Displaying thousands of items in various conditions also might prove very difficult for some families to experience, particularly in a non-private setting.  Some pieces cannot be displayed.  Finally, NYPD does not feel it is appropriate to ask families to wait in what they expect would be a long line to get into the room.  As for images on a website – again, there are many images that are potentially disturbing and that still might not result in a corroborating identification. The NYPD feels it is more practical to reduce property numbers down to a more manageable number and use investigative techniques to return to owner.

Can I still claim property in person?


Family members must first have authorization from the proper Court or Public Administrator to pick up property from the NYPD. Please follow the three steps listed here:

  1. Appear at the NYPD Property Clerk's Office at 1 Police Plaza to obtain a 'Property Clerk's Voucher' (please use the 'World Trade Center' window upon arriving at this facility)
  2. If the deceased did have a will, bring this 'Property Clerk's Voucher' to the Surrogate Court to receive permission to take custody of the decedent's property.
  3. If the deceased did not have a will, bring this 'Property Clerk's Voucher' to the Public Administrator's Office to receive permission to take custody of the decedent's property.

Bring your 'Property Clerk's Voucher' back to the NYPD's Property Clerk's Office at 1 Police Plaza (along with any paperwork you obtained from the proper agency mentioned in step #2) to obtain the actual property listed on the 'Property Clerk's Voucher.'
Contact information for the 'Property Clerk's Office' is found at the end of this update.

Note that you will be seen by someone who is familiar with these claims and will understand that you are a family member or survivor. Please also note that if you haven’t been contacted and are coming personally to seek information, you may not be able to receive an answer that day.  However, the Property Clerk will take all your information and enter your claim.

What is happening with jewelry?

Jewelry is the most personal and has the most value to many claimants, particularly family members. Jewelry is also among the most difficult of the items to connect with claimants. The condition of the pieces varies widely and the number of pieces with obvious investigative signposts (i.e., readable inscriptions or serial numbers) has been small.  Of the 1350 jewelry items identified as such, some 1100 pieces are left.  Because it is expected that many claims (and duplicate claims) will be forthcoming, a separate and comprehensive computerized claim system is nearing completion and will be introduced in the next several months.

A questionnaire will be available on a secure website as well as in paper form.  Claimants will be able to register and will be asked for identification and pertinent information, such as relationship to victim or worker/survivor information, contact information and a pin number will be assigned.

The more information that can be supplied about the item being sought the better.  Such information will include: serial numbers, inscriptions, purchase or insurance receipts, brand or make, metal content (i.e.14 carat gold, sterling), size, jeweler’s descriptions, and photos (do NOT send original photos).

Family members can begin gathering this information this summer in anticipation of the questionnaire being made available in the fall.  Once they have this information pulled, they may contact the Property Clerk’s office; however, we have been advised that if families wait to use the computerized system, their requests may be able to be verified much more quickly.

It is the expectation of the Property Clerk’s office that where possible, the claimant can be matched with an identifiable piece within 6-9 months. The Clerk’s view is that accuracy is more important than speed so that the claim can be absolutely verified and in compliance with the law.

Please remember:
First, in the case of multiple claims, the Property Clerk’s office will NOT make the determination as to who the rightful claimant is but will defer to the decision of the Surrogate court in your location as to the legal next of kin.

Second, the condition of much of what has been identified as “jewelry” may have been altered or be difficult to match to a photograph or description.  There is no certainty that because you provide the information that the piece has been located or can be identified.

Why isn’t there a viewing of the items or a website?

Keeping a viewing area free of false claimants or macabre “thrill-seekers” is part of the issue.  But the NYPD also does not feel it is appropriate to ask families to wait in what they expect would be a long line to view, with many others, pieces in various conditions, which might produce difficult emotions for many without resulting in a corroborating identification.

What comes next?

The last pieces to be addressed are those items about which it is most difficult to make any determination.  Further forensic and other tests will be run and every effort made; however, we emphasize with great sensitivity that some of the items (whose images we saw) may never be identified as to what they are, let alone to whom they might have belonged.  The Property Clerk is optimistic that 90% of what has been recovered has or will be identified and returned.  But note that we have been advised that the number of items recovered is in no way commensurate with the number of items that may have been in possession of the victims at the time of the attack.

Obviously, the more information you supply to the clerk, the easier it may be.  We will make every effort to work with the Property Clerk’s Office.  That office will be sending out letters to the next of kin concomitant with the public announcement and we will also get that letter to the families and survivors.

In the meantime, here is contact information:

Inspector Jack Trabitz
New York City Police Department
Property Clerk Division
One Police Plaza
Room 208
New York City 10038
646-610-5903
Families and survivors can also visit the website at:

www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/ssb/pcdindex.html

We hope this report helps.  We will keep you updated as to the progress on the new system.