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Bowling Green (KY) Police Department – 5 Year Evidence Room Clean Up Process – Part 1

March 3, 2021

In this webinar, Ben Townsend, the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products, interviewed David Bragg, of the Bowling Green (KY) Police Department, to learn more about his five year evidence room clean-up efforts. 

David was also a participant on our second webinar, so the team at Tracker Products was excited to invite him back as part of our effort to unite the evidence management community and help them progress as an industry.  

evidence management webinar

Ben asked David to tell the attendees a little about himself. 

He said, “I’m a retired detective from my agency. Actually, I retired in 2005. I did some contract investigative work for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Inspector General’s office for a few years, but that got kind of slow. And then, a bug was planted in my ear that there would be a retirement here, within our agency, and the chief asked if I would be interested in returning to work in the property room. I was; because it excites me when a challenge exists. 

So, I accepted in October of 2011 and returned back to work in my home agency. My agency is a 125 officer department, in a municipal community of about 70,000, and a county population of about 140,000. There are two full-time evidence custodians; we’re both civilians. So, I hung up my shield and my gun and returned back to work as a civilian employee.”

Ben said, “The purpose of today is… we’re doing a virtual evidence tour of the Bowling Green PD, but instead of having David show us a bunch of stuff in their evidence room – and talking in general – I wanted to focus on what he did over five years to improve his evidence management system and facility. He’s going to describe the mess here in a moment. 

When you took over, David, what did it look like when you walked into the door? We know you were excited that you were going to take over the evidence room. I’m curious, you had seen the evidence room, before taking over, but you really had no understanding of the inner workings. Is that correct?” 

David said, “I’d never been in the evidence room before. I’ll give you a little historical perspective… as a detective, I often would check out evidence for a review or for trial prep. Probably a year prior to retiring, we had a murder trial coming up and we had about a hundred pieces of evidence. So, I remember coming to check out that evidence and…  guess how many signatures I had to do? A hundred times for each individual piece of evidence; to maintain the chain of custody. 

This was in 2004. I had been urging the evidence staff to take a look at barcoding. We were still using paper at the time, which is an antique way of managing the evidence. So, I was signing out a hundred pieces of evidence x 100 signatures. It was a terrible thing to track that volume of evidence. 

Back in the mid seventies. I remember walking into a grocery store and I turned and went down the aisle and there was the store manager – who I happened to graduate from high school with – he had this contraption in his hand that looked like a gun. He was scanning barcodes on grocery store items, and the shelves [they were on]. And I said, What in the world are you doing? And he said I’m doing an inventory. I’m taking inventory of our stock. 

So, barcoding technology has been around for a long time. In the late nineties, I was urging our evidence staff to take a look at barcoding as a way to ease up the burden of managing evidence. It probably was in its infancy for evidence management. I suspect there were not a lot of companies out there that had barcoding for evidence management [back then]. 

I was trying to plant a seed to look at technology. But, there was some hesitation to embrace that technology because it was new and it was uncomfortable for people. People were used to using paper and pen.”

RELATED: EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE VERSUS PEN AND PAPER

Ben said, “You’re not only talking about the nineties. I mean, you were using pen and paper and antiquated technology all the way up to 2010!”

David said, “Yeah. So, fast forward… I returned from retirement to work in the property room in 2012. We were still using the hybrid system of paper and computer. After my retirement, we went to a computerized evidence management system, which was a module that came with our records management system. 

We had barcodes printed and placed on the package, but also with that barcode label, was a paper chain of custody form. So, while we had a barcode attached to the package, it was like a rock being attached to it. It didn’t serve any purpose. We were still using paper registers for chain of custody and signing out evidence.

So, I knew we were coming in with a challenge. I took it on myself, one day, to try and determine on the average, How many keystrokes does it take from the time an officer seizes a piece of evidence until we accepted into permanent storage? 

We were using a computer at the time, with a module from our records management system. I counted almost 200 keystrokes that it took to get that into permanent storage. It’s just unbelievable to take that much time and resources away from what you could be doing in an evidence room. Our emphasis was particularly focused on the intake and not getting things out or managing inventory.”

Ben said, “I think a lot of people come into a mess. And again, everybody is going to have a different level of whatever they’re looking at. What I like best about what you’re saying is you looked at what is taking time. 

I think that is always a great place to start because so many people would say, I don’t have time to do dispositions. I think you’ve got to sit down and literally evaluate what is taking your time. That is such a perfect place to start.”

David said, “Shortly after I’d been here, I had another detective show up, to check some things out for a murder trial. That was a Deja Vu. We had a 100+ items in that case. From 2005 – when I was still working here – to 2012, I was doing the same thing. I’m signing out a hundred pieces of evidence and getting a signature from that officer a hundred times. So, I knew something had to change.

We were in a modern facility – this facility was built in the late 1990’s – so it’s clean, no mold, no leakage; it’s a good building. But, it was disorganized chaos[in terms of] evidence management. There was no compromise of integrity – the items were here – it was just a chaotic mess. 

Part of the problem too – I’m going to get tomatoes thrown at me here for this – but, there was a staffing issue. If you have staff who are, by nature, unorganized, that’s going to hurt your inventory management. Because a disorganized person can’t do inventory management.” 

Ben added, “So often, in police departments, we don’t go down the road of who’s the best fit for the job. Sometimes it’s like… We just need a body. And it doesn’t matter that they don’t even have the simple abilities to coordinate or organize. We’re just throwing somebody in there.

David continued, “Among the staff – it was just two staff members [at the time], just like it is today – there was no sense of ownership in their work. They didn’t really take pride, so that contributed to it. 

The two main factors that contributed to our problems were: a terrible evidence management system and a disorganized, burned out staff. You combine those two and you’re going to have some problems. And, the third thing was a lack of purging. Purging had not occurred here for a good while. 

There’s no way that we could do an automated barcoding inventory at that time. So, we were having to do a manual inventory. I just went down every row, every shelf, just arbitrarily pulling items out and taking a glance at it. Basically a cursory search. I found misdemeanor evidence that was seven and eight years old; the statute of limitations had long expired. There’s no reason for a seized license plate to be sitting in here for eight, nine years.”

RELATED: INVENTORY – A CRUCIAL PART OF EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT 

Ben said, “At that point, you’re just trying to make an assessment of everything. I mean, you’re not making major overhauls. You’re just trying to figure out where you’re at.”

David said, “Right. I basically was thrown in the swimming pool and was trying to figure out what to do.”

Ben asked, “Were you dealing with the chief directly, or how high up was your chain of command? And, what did that discussion look like?” 

David said, “The chief is not my direct chain of command, but I had a discussion with the chief prior to retirement. Basically, the discussion was… If you’re hired, we want you to focus on organizing this place and getting it in good shape. We want our evidence room top-notch. So, basically, the chief was on board for it. That was in my favor. 

After looking at all these problems… I found court orders, that were two and three years old, that had not been processed – or the items disposed of. There were so many issues that we had to address. 

So… how did we turn things around? A few weeks ago, Shawn Henderson from the Evidence Management Institute mentioned ‘leading without authority.’ Basically, what he was saying is that you might not be in a leadership position, but you can Lead Without Authority by having influence.

How do you gain that influence and how do you take advantage of it? I started doing some research – and made some graphs and charts – because  I needed to sell the notion that we needed a major overhaul of our records of our evidence management system. We gotta have it.

evidence management webinar

It’s good to talk about it, but unless you can show the proof, unless you can articulate and demonstrate to your boss, or the chief, or a decision-maker, you’re probably not going to gain much traction. So, I put this in charts and graphs and said, This is where we are. I talked about the 200 keystrokes of getting a piece of evidence entered in December of 2012. 

The chief basically said, Do what you need to do. If we need new software, let’s get new software. So, I reached out to vendors.”

Ben said, “I want to reiterate… You didn’t just walk in and say, I need new software, or… this is a ‘problem.’ You articulated exactly where the pain points were.”

RELATED: USING YOUR EVIDENCE ROOM DATA AS AN ANALYTICAL TOOL

David said, “That’s exactly right. I don’t think you can sell a concept if you just talk about it and you don’t have any proof; you can’t articulate or demonstrate what you’re asking for. So, in 2012, I said, Look, we need to ditch our records management system, evidence module. It’s inadequate at best. It can’t do the job and we have to have a robust system. 

So, I started looking at robust systems and demoed several companies’ products. After a few months, we ended up purchasing the Tracker product. That was the first step. The second step that occurred was to get all of our inventory moved into the Tracker Product’s system. 

You actually came down for that. You said something to this effect… When this is all done, you’re going to wake up the next day, come into work, and it’s going to feel like you’re walking into a new world when you start using this product.

That was a dead on comment. It’s like a light switch had been turned on. We could actually manage inventory. I could see data, I could run reports, I could do inventory. That was the single most [important] thing that relieved the tension in the evidence room. 

Shortly after that, I start looking at all the data and looking at all the evidence. In Kentucky, we’re kind of unique. We have two prosecutor’s offices, we have two courts: circuit court and district court. Circuit Court handles felonies, District Court handles misdemeanors. And, we had several divisions in each of those. So, I approached each elected prosecutor and said, We need to do an administrative purge. We need to get rid of some old evidence quickly.

So I asked them, Can we look at a target date? You look at your court dockets, and your court cases. All those cases from this date backwards are adjudicated. Can we just get rid of this evidence… minus those with money, guns, and violent crimes: rapes and murders, and so forth. 

Both the prosecutors agreed to do that. We did a mass administrative purge. I think, in a year and a half, about 12,000 items were purged – just from administrative purge, not authorized by an officer or a court order. That was just a massive administrative purge.”

Ben said, “Did you have to twist any arms? When you went to the prosecutors to say, Hey, I need to do something we’ve never done before. How did you pull that off with them; were they accommodating or…?”

David said, “I invited them over for a tour.”

Ben laughed and said, “There’s the answer… Bring them in!”

David said, “Both of them at the same time. Come here for the tour, here’s the date to show up. My boss was there when both prosecutors showed up. They were pretty astonished. I said, This is what we’re facing. I pulled out an item for our prosecutor – who handled all the misdemeanor cases – and I said, Look, here’s a license plate from an improperly registered car, from eight years ago. Here’s a marijuana joint from eight years ago on a misdemeanor possession. We still have it. This is what’s bogging us down. This is what’s cluttering up our room. We need some immediate relief. 

So, both the prosecutors saw that and they went back, took a look at their dockets of older cases, determined from a certain date backwards that all the cases are settled, and wrote a memo saying: Purge out that data – minus those exceptions of money and so forth – and get rid of it. And that’s what we did. 

It took about a year because we wanted to make sure we weren’t getting rid of some needed stuff. But, it added up to about 12,000 items. So, that was a start.”

Ben said, “One thing I remember, when you went from your RMS system into our evidence management system, is… we brought in all of that data out of the old system – and there were several hundred-thousand records. 

RELATED: JUST USE THE RMS – RESPONDING TO FOUR WORDS THAT MAKE EVIDENCE MANAGERS CRINGE

I would advise everybody that’s listening…. If you move from a records management into an evidence management system, you want all of that data in there. But – I’m going to say this with a big caution – if all you do is bring that data in and leave it there, and you don’t have a plan in place for how you’re going to scrub it, and clean it, and go from there, it’s going to be a problem. 

As far as I was concerned, with David, we were bringing in a pile of unknown. I said, David, we’re going to throw all of this evidence in there. We don’t know what’s here or what’s not here, but over the next couple of years, you’re going to work on touching every piece of evidence and shifting it from an unclean part of the evidence room into a clean part. New evidence coming in the door, goes into the clean part. 

Is that ultimately how that rolled out? Did you wind up touching 200,000 pieces of evidence and shifting everything?”

David said, “I did not. I asked our IT staff to look at our current RMS –  prior to going to Tracker – and I said, Would you export all that to a spreadsheet? I want to have all that information handy. 

When the data was migrated from our old system to the new system of Tracker, I did some benchmark testing, randomly. I just walked through for a few weeks, pulling items and seeing if the data matched up. It all matched up. Essentially there were zero hiccups during the migration of it.”

Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to give you something productive to think about during this time of uncertainty… a series of free evidence management training and panel discussions. Watch and comment on the recordings here, or – to get in on the discussion – join the Evidence Management Community Forum.

Tracker Product’s SAFE evidence tracking software is more than just barcodes and inventory control, it’s end-to-end chain of custody software for physical and digital evidence, resolving each of the critical issues facing evidence management today. To learn more about Tracker Products, CLICK HERE.

Or, if you’re interested in Evidence Management Training from our partner company, VISIT EMI HERE.