El Mirage Police Department Virtual Evidence Room Tour – Part 1
January 28, 2021
During these unprecedented times, we decided to focus on the positive things that are happening in our corner of the evidence management world. In this webinar, we were joined by Jason Michael from the El Mirage, Arizona Police Department for a virtual evidence room tour. As evidence custodians, we can learn a great deal by connecting with each other, especially during times of social distancing. Below, you will find a recap of our interview with Jason (pictured on the right in the image below), in which he provides some great tips about his best practices.
Ben Townsend, Founder, and CEO of Tracker Products, opened the interview by saying, “When we do these webinars, people flock to them to see what other people are doing. Because most people don’t know what’s going on outside their own evidence management world. This is the first time something like this has ever been done; where we’re taking you into an evidence room.
Jason, you and I have known each other for a couple of years now. How long have you been an evidence tech at El Mirage?”
Jason said, “A little over 12 years now. I started out basically researching how other departments do this. I walked into it blind, and here I am 12 years later. I’m still learning the process.”
Ben said, “How did you get into the evidence room? Did somebody come to you and ask you to do it? Did you notice a job posting?”
Jason said, “It was just a warehouse posting that I saw on a website. I was getting discharged from the military and I figured I might as well keep on doing what I do best… and that’s warehousing experience. So, I found it and I was able to get the position.”
Ben asked, “You’re a civilian, correct?”
Jason said, “Correct, yes.”
Ben said, “Why don’t you give us a quick rundown about what you were doing with the military. You said you had some specific background? Give us your overview of what your military life was like?”
Jason said, “[For 15 years], I had several positions in the military. My main one was as a heavy equipment transport operator. But then, on the other side of the house, I worked as a federal agent for the state; as their ammunition supply manager. So, I had a dual role role. On weekends I was playing with Tonka toys, and then during the weekdays, I was the ammunition supply manager.”
Ben asked, “Would you describe that as being more difficult than running an evidence room, or is it less difficult?”
Jason said, “It had its challenges, but I’ll take this any day. At least, now I’m inside.”
Ben laughed and said, “Well, when it’s 107 degrees outside, I can understand that. So, you saw a job posting, but you didn’t particularly know it was evidence. You just saw it was warehousing. What was the lead into that?”
Jason said, “That was a learning experience. I didn’t realize there were so many rules and regulations. State, federal, and city laws about what I could do with the property. How it needed to be stored, how long I had to store it.
So, of course, the first couple of years I went to all these training courses. And, Arizona has a really good association, where all the agencies get together. And they have quarterly meetings and a two-day conference up in the high mountains. We all talk about what’s going on. What’s trending. So, it worked out well.”
Ben said, “ I’m curious, when you first walked into El Mirage 12 years ago, what did you think?”
Jason said, “Unfortunately, El Mirage was kind of in dire straits. They had everything thrown into Conex boxes. There was really no management of the system. It was a conundrum. It was a mess. And so, it took me probably a good three and a half to four years to get it all cleaned up, processed, and organized. And then from there, I started building off of it.”
Ben said, “I will say, for all the downfalls of the military, I’m sure it’s organized and very rigid. You don’t have a lot of flexibility to come in and sort of put your own spin on things. Did you look at this as a challenge? I assume you were excited about it?”
Jason said, “Most definitely. I love my job. I can’t wait to come into work. You know the three and four day weekends? I’m like, No, I’m ready to go back to work, cause I know what needs to be done. I relish it; it’s a challenge every day.”
Ben said, “My assumption is we’ve got people on here that maybe, just recently, walked into a mess. Maybe they opened up that door and saw the same thing you did and they want to use a word that’s a little heavier than a conundrum. If you go back 12 years ago, what were some of the first things you did to wrap your mind around what to start working on?”
Jason said, “I really had no idea what I was getting into, to be honest with you. I just started pulling what I had in inventory, laying it all out on the floor, trying to make heads or tails of it. I started to group similar items, like all the CDs, all the paperwork and documents all the forms.
And then I was thinking, Well, maybe every single case should be together. And then, as I learned, it didn’t really matter where you stored it in the warehouse so long as you could find it.
And, that’s what I ended up building off of. I just mimicked some of the other agencies that I was researching, and taking tours of their warehouses.”
Ben asked, “Was there any sort of software in play when you walked in? Was there pen and paper? Or was it literally just, Here it is and figure it all out?”
Jason said, “It was pen and paper. And then, we started using the Spillman RMS. I had to take the paper copies and transfer that all into Spillman to get a barcode and put the barcode on it. It was something that they just started doing when I was hired on.”
Ben said, “I want to go through some statistics about El Mirage. So, this is our software application. As of right this minute, Jason has 22,208 items in his evidence room. They’ve disposed of 37,608. So, that’s a strong disposition ratio. You have disposed of 60% of everything you’ve ever touched. So, that’s a solid number.
If you look at the last 12 months, this is how much evidence they brought in and how much evidence they disposed of. The green (wave) line is how much has come in. The blue line being disposed of. In your world, you’re getting between 320 and 400 pieces of evidence in a given month. But I also noticed in March you topped out at 800. What happened in March?”
Jason said, “We had several search warrants that took effect that month. And we had an officer involved shooting. So, between the search warrants and the sting operations – that the detectives were doing – we recovered… I think one search warrant was close to 200 items. So, it just skyrocketed. April was kind of the same.”
Ben said, “You’re not ‘just’ the evidence tech. Not only are you responsible for 22,000 pieces of evidence and you run the evidence room. Tell me the other jobs you do for the El Mirage PD.”
Jason said, “I’m the only evidence tech for the El Mirage PD. I also assist detectives with search warrants. I go out and photograph the scenes, document everything, collect and package. I also do the NIBIN entry. So, any firearm that comes in, and it’s qualified, I go and test fire it, collect the shell casings and enter it into the NIBIN database over at Phoenix PD. I do all the lab runs. I do redactions. I pull all the 911 and radio recordings. I help with any type of city prosecutor and county attorney requests that come my way. And, I’m the supply Sergeant. So yeah, a little bit of everything.”
Ben laughed and said, “First of all, you’re crazy. I don’t know how much money you’re making, but I hope it’s a lot. Can you ballpark how many hours you work in an average week?”
Jason said, “About 50 hours on average is what it’s coming out to. I also testify in court for DUI trials, because I do the intox calibrations on the instruments that they use here.”
Ben said, “Not only does he have eight different titles with the El Mirage PD – and he works for the County and everything else – but he’s also managing to dispose of evidence. I mean, look at their disposition levels. You know, there’s a lot of people that would be like… There is no way I would have time to do dispositions.
One of the things that I’m really impressed with is that over the last year – 7 out of the 12 months – they disposed of more evidence then what they brought in. I know Jason really well and I know he works tremendously hard, but my assumption is you’re very efficient.”
Jason said, “I couldn’t have done it without this program. This is what saved me. With the old system, I’d spend five, six hours doing it. Now, maybe less than 20 minutes. So, it frees up my time to be able to do everything else on top of that; and still manage the warehouse and do case management and review the dispositions.”
Ben said, “On the community page, I asked people… Are you using a standalone evidence management system – like our product – or, are you using RMS? I was sorta surprised to see that almost half of the people that responded are using an RMS product. So many people are forced to use an RMS system. Why did you decide to get rid of the Spillman RMS?”
Jason said, “In probably my third year, I realized… This is so redundant, why am I taking what the officers have already put on a piece of paper? At first, the forms were handwritten, then I changed it over to where they started typing in the form. Because I couldn’t read their handwriting.
After that, I would receive that Word doc and then I would start typing it all in. I’m like, Why am I doing this? I mean, they should be entering it into the system. And all they gotta do is just place a barcode. So, I started doing research and I found several companies. When I came across yours, the way yours was set up – the ease and the ability for the officers to go through a process – everything made sense. And, I was able to sell it to the department and to the higher ups. And, like I say, it’s, it’s saved so many hours.”
Ben said, “I know that sometimes people are forced to stick with their RMS system. But, when you moved into an evidence management application – that is specifically designed for evidence management – what were two or the three of the biggest things that really stood out to you; that you simply were not getting in your RMS?”
Jason said, “The discrepancy reports right off the bat. The ease of doing the audits and inspections on myself. The ability to just be able to see the screen to know what’s coming in and out, without having to run a Crystal Report. I don’t even know how to describe it, because it’s just so easy. I mean, I can process 250 items in less than two hours once I get it all set up and ready to go. I just sit there and hand it in and it’s done.”
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.
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