Sergeant Craig Barker outside the lost bike storage shed at the Nelson Police Station last week. Photo: Simon Bloomberg

Lost today, found tomorrow

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People are always losing and finding things, but what never ceases to amaze Nelson police sergeant Craig Barker is the sheer volume of lost property that floods into the station’s lost and found storage rooms.

Bikes are the big ticket item with Craig, who oversees the lost property files, saying around five turn up each week so the bike shed is always full. And some of them “look very expensive”,  prompting Craig to ask “how do you lose a bike like that and not realise it?”

The answer, Craig believes, is that many people who lose things, or have them stolen and then dumped, have given up any hope of finding them because they don’t have any faith in people’s honesty.

“People who lose something tend to think they’ll never see it again, but that’s not always the case,” Craig says. “There are still a lot of honest people out in the community who hand things in.”

Phones, wallets, keys and jewellery are the other common lost items and they make up the majority of the 260 found property files presently held at the Nelson police station.

Interestingly, Craig says the number of people coming into the station looking for their lost car keys has increased dramatically with the introduction of electronic transponder keys.

“These electronic keys cost $400 or $500 to replace  and you can’t just have another one cut, so when people lose them they tend to make more of an effort to find them,” Craig says.

Another thing Craig has observed is that there’s a pattern to the time and place that people lose items.

Friday and Saturday nights in town always produce a spike in lost property, beaches are a rich vein for jewellery, while supermarkets, big box warehouses and taxis provide a constant stream of wallets and phones.

There have also been some unusual items handed in, including  part of a wing of plane that crashed into the sea and was dredged up by a Nelson fishing boat.

False teeth and hearing aids have also turned up from time to time, while they have had a mortar bomb, that fortunately wasn’t live, and a headstone from a cemetery.

Another source of lost property is the region’s refuse transfer stations.

People are always throwing out valuables by mistake and, if they are lucky, the items are sometimes retrieved by the eagle-eyed staff working in the refuse pit or on the recycle line.

Smart Environmental upper South Island manager Yuri Schokking says, last month, two war medals and a set of RAF wings were returned to the owner after they were found in the refuse pit by staff member Yogi Takimoana.

But Yuri says not every story has a happy ending with one lady dumping a mattress that “supposedly” contained $30,000 in cash.

“She’d cleared out her mother’s home when she was in hospital and came down two weeks later and asked if we still had the mattress. We asked her why and she said it had $30,000 hidden in it, but we had to say ‘sorry, it’s long gone’.

When items are handed into police, Craig says they are required by law to hold on to them for a month. If the item is not claimed, the finder has the option of keeping it, otherwise it is either disposed of or sold in the police auction  – proceeds from the auction go into the Consolidated Fund.

However, Craig says they always go to great lengths to try and find the owner.