El Mirage Police Department Virtual Evidence Room Tour – Part 2
February 4, 2021
In Part 1 of this webinar we interviewed Jason Michael from the El Mirage, Arizona Police Department for a virtual evidence room tour. In Part 2, BenTownsend – the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products – continued the conversation and asked Jason to respond to some questions that came in from the attendees. This first question was about his disposition process.
Ben said, “The question that came in is, How do you go about getting rid of evidence?”
Jason said, “I do not dispose of anything until I get the AOK from the case agent. Usually what will happen is, I’ll receive dispositions from the records department and then we’ll go through a workflow process with our RMS system. I’ll send it in and do a little research saying, Hey, there are items associated with this case. Here’s the disposition. Can I get rid of it? They work-flow back saying, It’s good to go. And then I process it from there.
Seven years back, I started doing my own case management and review of all those cases. And that’s how I was able to achieve some of these stats.”
Ben said, “I’m curious… were your stats always like this? From my standpoint, you can put a good evidence application in front of somebody and they can Jack it up in ways you would never imagine. Just because you’ve got good evidence software, it doesn’t equate to a good setup in your evidence room. Do these statistics look this strong because you got an evidence management system or…?”
Jason said, “I kept on progressing through the years, finding the solutions for what needed to be done to get the one [piece of evidence] in, to one out. Part of it was this [Tracker] system and also getting on the officers, the county attorneys, and the city prosecutors for those disposition approvals.”
Ben asked, “Do you have a good relationship with your prosecutors? Are they responsive to your requests for dispositions?”
Jason said, “For the most part, it works out really well. We have one city prosecutor; I can email him directly for any type of questions. As far as the county attorneys, it’s a little slow, but I’m still building that relationship. And, I have access to their portal, so I can go in and check the status of those cases through the attorney’s website, and then send those disposition requests to the case agent.”
Ben said, “Let’s walk through some pictures of your evidence room. My assumption is… that’s not what you saw on day one, when you came in.”
Jason laughed and said, “No. Nothing of the sorts.”
Ben said, “Where do you want to start with some of these pictures? I mean I’ve got six pictures on the screen right there. Which one do you want to do?”
Jason said, “The top left hand is just an overall shot of my warehouse. It’s just six shelving units. Someday, I’d like to go to high density shelving where they can collapse on each other. I do have room to grow, but I don’t want to ever get to that point. So, if need be, I have some empty space there where I can build another shelving unit.
In the bottom left photo, you’re seeing my 6 x 9 envelopes. On the other side of that shelving unit are my 10 x 13’s. In those boxes are: paper bags, clothing items, biohazard items, and stuff like that. I kind of keep it neat, secure, tight, and clean.”
Ben said, “Explain to me what these things are out back.”
Jason said, “I just acquired those because of search warrants. [Before getting them], I had everything inside the warehouse; I couldn’t even walk my own warehouse. When we did a couple of ‘grow’ homes – for recreational use – we took all their equipment. I store them in there. But, that’s how the old warehouse used to be… it was just two Conex boxes. Everything was thrown in there, and you had to dig through it to figure out where everything was. Now, I keep all my bicycles, large equipment, tools and stuff in those.”
Ben said, “I see you’ve got all your bike storage outside also.”
Jason said, “That was just newly acquired. Every year they ask for my wishlist. So I said, It’d be kind of nice to be able to have this. They know how hard I work around here and what I’ve been able to do for them. It’s been really nice to have good support from my supervisor.”
Ben said, “Let’s flip over to your gun storage.”
Jason said, “I was trying to get a better picture of that, but it’s all behind the cage. There’s a floor safe that’s in there, as well, for all my currency, counterfeit currency, jewelry and stuff like that. And then, I have all my firearms. I had close to a thousand firearms when I first started. Now, I’m down to like 200 I believe.”
Ben said, “So, you’ve got secure storage within your secure storage. I mean, you’re taking a picture through a cage. I’m just curious… How many people have access to your evidence room that don’t have access to the firearms? I mean, your evidence room is secure to begin with. Why do you have security inside security?”
Jason said, “It’s just a standard operation that we found through other agencies. So yes, it’s security within the security. You have to have key access to get into it, and I’m the only one that has access to the warehouse.”
Ben changed subjects and asked, “Being an Arizona, do you have any problems with temperature issues? Do you have something set up because you’re in the environment that you’re in?”
Jason said, “It’s a controlled air conditioned warehouse. I try to keep it around 75 degrees and it seems to be working out real well.”
Ben said, “I see a question just popped in here. Somebody asked, Do you destroy firearms or do you sell them? Or, how do you go about getting rid of firearms?”
Jason said, “It used to be – back in the day – we could destroy, but Arizona changed their law. Now, we have to sell. Unless they’ve been obliterated, missing a serial number or altered in some form or fashion; then we can destroy them. But, everything gets sold through a public auction.”
Ben asked, “What about your drugs? How do you guys go about getting rid of drugs?”
Jason said, “Same scenario. Once I get enough acquired, I get them all boxed up and we have a smelter that we take them to. They all get destroyed with the drugs.”
Ben laughed, “When you said, ‘same scenario,’ I was thinking, Are you auctioning your drugs off?”
“No, no… the firearms. Sorry.”
Ben said, “I was going to say… people were going to line up. I didn’t know how they did it in Arizona. Maybe you guys auction off the pot?”
Jason said, “They’re trying to legalize it here, so we’ll see.”
Ben said, “Let’s go back to the pictures… Anything special about your freezer storage?”
Jason said, “That’s pretty much all my blood-draw kits from the DUI cases; and then anything that needed to be frozen at the time. Some agencies, they freeze everything, but from what I’ve read – and researched about other agencies – so long as it’s dried and it’s in a controlled environment, it doesn’t need to be frozen.”
Ben said, “A total random question here. Have you ever had a third party agency come in and audit all of the things that you’re doing?”
Jason said, “Several, yes. Phoenix PD, DPS has come out and they’ve done their own internal audits and inspections to see what needs to be improved and/or modified. And then, I’ve had other agencies come in and they take a tour of the facility, to see what can be done on their end and vice versa.”
Ben said, “I want to go back to something you just said a moment ago. You said Phoenix PD came in and did an audit. What does that mean? I don’t know that I’ve heard of a situation where another PD came in and audited. Give me a breakdown on that?”
Jason said, “We had a new chief come in and he asked an external agency to come out to do an inspection. Thankfully I passed with flying colors. And then, we had an interim chief and he wanted to know the standings of the warehouse; where it stood, whether it was good, bad or indifferent. So, he too had an external agency, DPS, come out and they did an audit inspection on me as well.”
Ben said, “Those things are very valuable. I was going to say a lot of people try to avoid them because they’re worried about what people are going to find out. But, you want to know what you’re doing is up to par and if there are things that need to be fixed. But, when I look at your statistics, and when I look at the pictures, it looks like a really solid operation. But, until you start digging down into some of the things that are lying underneath, you don’t know if you’re doing things the right way and what you can do to improve upon those.”
Jason said, “Exactly, but I was a nervous wreck! Sometimes you do find yourself in a rut. Especially with myself, since I’m the only one that’s doing it back here. I question myself sometimes. Am I really doing the right thing? Are there other processes that I could be doing to make it a little bit easier, or different storage techniques?
So, I like to network. I reach out to other agencies to see how they’re doing it. That’s why I was the president of the association for Arizona for a couple of years; it was a good networking tool. I haven’t been a part of that association this past year, because I’ve been going to school full time. But now that I’m finishing up and getting ready to graduate, I plan on getting back into the swing of things.”
Ben said, “How do you handle your public return? Somebody’s asking. Do you have a window somewhere around there? Or, how do you meet with the public to return stuff?”
Jason said, “I have my own little public lobby area and it’s a pass through box for small items. And then, I have a larger box that I can put items into like backpacks and whatnot. They sign on the digital pad, showing the items have been released to them. I have another separate room, where I can put larger items, like bicycles and TVs, and then I can buzz them in. They can pick it up [in there].”
Ben said, “You said something about digital signatures. When you and I were talking on the phone yesterday, I had no idea you were using our mobile app. We came out with that a while ago, but my understanding is within the last month you just started using our mobile application. Is that correct?”
Jason said, “It is. And, I absolutely love it. It’s fantastic.”
Ben said, “I’m just curious … it looks like earlier today you did three different inventories with it, is that correct?”
Jason said, “Correct. You can see the timestamps: 11:39, 11:41, 11:43; so all within minutes.”
Ben said, “So, you did three inventories – in three different locations – that equaled about almost 60 items, and you found one discrepancy within a matter of minutes. Are you an organized person by birth, or did you learn that in the military?”
Jason said, “I think it’s a mental status. I have no idea where it came from, but if I can’t find something within two to five minutes, I feel stressed. I take pride in what I do. I know the past history of El Mirage [PD], and I don’t want it to happen again. I want to make the chief look good and that’s my goal. I want my supervisor to trust me and understand what to do to make sure that it’s being done correctly. And like I say, I just love what I do. It’s an awesome job.”
Ben said, “You’re in the Facebook community group. So, if anyone wants to ask Jason Michael a question, he’s in the community group. You can post stuff on there, asking questions about how he’s doing stuff. This conversation is going to end in probably 10 minutes, but it does not have to be the end of it. If you want to know what he’s doing, he’ll respond to you inside the community group. So, post stuff in there and ask away.”
Jason said, “Most definitely. I love to network and to see how other agencies do it. The very first webinar you had, she had something on there I didn’t even think about as far as the tagging system. So, I’m trying to relearn how to do that because I’m finding the way she did it would really benefit the way I sort items for destruction.”
Ben said, “Jason is talking about the very first webinar we did, which was a virtual evidence room tour of the Des Moines PD in Des Moines, Iowa; with Krista Morgan. Another super organized person. When I was showing her system off, that was something that you grabbed onto and now you’re running with it. Which is why we do this. You never know when you’re going to see something that somebody else is doing. And you’re going to be like, Oh, wait a minute, I didn’t even know that. And then you implement that and make what you’re doing better.
This is a really wide ranging question…. Is there anything you would want to throw out to somebody that you’ve learned over 12 years? Maybe even a couple of things you would say have been critical to your success.”
Jason said, “Just networking. My first two years, that’s all I did. I went to the largest agencies and then I went to some of the smaller agencies. I chose what would work best for us here at El Mirage. I really hammered down on getting out there and looking to see what other agencies had to offer. And, just tried to mimic some of the best practices.”
Ben said, “Here’s a totally random question, but I’ll throw it out nonetheless. How do you store your cell phones and do you keep a charge on them when they’re in the property room? Do you store cell phones?”
Jason said, “I do, but they’re not charged. Most of the time the batteries are taken out. They’re in six by nine paper bags. Some of them are in faraday bags for the higher profile cases. [when they first come in] we place them in airplane mode. They go to the lab to extract the data. Once that’s done, then we turn them completely off.”
Ben said, “There’s a whole litany of questions that are rolling in now, so we’re just going to rapid fire quick answers on these. How many officers does El Mirage have?”
Jason said, “Currently we have 45 sworn officers, so it’s a small department.”
Ben said, “What are you using for the workflow that’s involved in the disposition process?”
Jason said, “It’s through our RMS system. Everything’s done through Spillman, unfortunately. Not through Tracker.”
Ben said, “That’s the one feature in our system that we’re always looking to see if somebody has turned on: Auto-Dispo. My guess is, you just found it works in the other system. And, your disposition levels look great, so I would never tell somebody – if you’re doing well at disposition – Stop doing that and move to something else.
On a different note, someone said, I assume your officers are bringing all their evidence. They enter it into Tracker’s SAFE system. They barcode it and put it into the evidence lockers. And then from there you grab them every day and move them to where they go.
I’m just curious… Your temporary lockers, are they just slam lockers or are they electronic in any way?”
Jason said, “They’re slam lockers. Once you close them, you just lock them. They’re simple pass-through lockers.”
Ben said, “We’re winding up here. Is there anything else you wanted to add about some of the other pictures?”
Jason said, “That signature pad feature is fantastic. It has been a real lifesaver too, because before, I would just show the item going out to a DPS lab, or whatnot. Now, I take the cell phone with me, scan the items when I’m there, and then I have somebody actually physically sign it showing that they’re receiving the chain of custody and it just makes it look a little nicer on that chain of custody report. Same way with the officers issuing out items to them for review, or whatnot. I have them sign using that application.”
Ben said, “Have you gotten into taking a picture of anything, when you’re doing a transaction on the phone, and attaching that to it? Like, if you’re returning a bike, do you take a picture of the person with the bike or have you scanned a driver’s license or anything and taken a picture of it?”
Jason said, “I scan driver’s licenses and attach it as a file into the system. But no, I’ve never really thought about taking an actual photograph of it. I noticed it’s able to do that. So, I might play around with 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.
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