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Evidence Management – Audits vs. Inventories

April 27, 2023

Evidence Management – Law enforcement agencies must account for all evidence in their possession to ensure items remain protected, secure, and admissible to court. Two methods for making sure that evidence items are accounted for are audits and inventories. So, it’s essential to understand the differences and benefits of each.

An audit is a review of compliance with policies and procedures, industry standards, state regulations, and accreditation requirements. Audits can help agencies identify problems and fix them before the evidence is compromised. An audit includes but is not limited to reviewing a select number of evidence items. 

An inventory is a physical count of all evidence items to ensure they match the inventory list, and that each item’s location is confirmed. Inventories are necessary to maintain accountability, and evidence custodians must be aware of what evidence they have and where it is at all times. Below, we will review each method to understand how each process helps law enforcement agencies maintain the integrity of evidence management units.

Audits

Evidence Management

An audit is a fundamental component of evidence management in law enforcement agencies, intended to ensure compliance with established policies and procedures. Specifically, audits assess whether an agency is following its policies and procedures, including whether officers are adhering to procedural requirements. 

It’s not just local policies and procedures that need to be followed, audits should also measure your compliance with other things like: State laws, Industry standards, the NIST standards for biological evidence, and forensic lab compliance standards and best practices. The audit process is the time to look at all compliance, not just policy and procedure, but statutory compliance, lab compliance, accreditation compliance, and industry standards. 

Through audits, agencies can identify areas of non-compliance and address these deficiencies, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the integrity of their evidence management processes. 

Additionally, monitoring progress on key performance indicators during an audit can be a valuable tool for identifying areas where further improvements can be made. A thorough and detailed evaluation of accountability measures, inventory status, and tracking of evidence checked out to officers, courts, and labs is also critical to ensure the integrity of the evidence management process.

In addition to spot-checks on the evidence itself, audits also include a review of storage areas, storage capacity, and workload. An audit should give you a snapshot as to how well you’re doing, or where you’re falling behind, in accomplishing the tasks that you’re supposed to accomplish. If you’ve got a preset group of key performance indicators, measuring your progress on those KPIs is a great thing to review during an audit process. 

The audit should include a thorough and detailed evaluation of all your accountability measures, inventory status, current evidence stored outside the agency, how many items are checked out to officers, how many items are checked out to the court, or how many items are out to the lab.

To maintain the integrity of evidence stored in law enforcement facilities, it is crucial to implement audits as part of your agency’s protocol. Tracker’s SAFE software can assist in this accountability process for evidence custodians. 

RELATED: EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT AUDITS – CRITICAL TO COMPLIANCE AND SECURITY

Audits ensure compliance with your agency’s standards and best practices, as well as measure the effectiveness of your organizational processes for tracking and managing evidence.

In conducting an audit, you can review a percentage of items in your evidence management facility and document their compliance with basic demographic information, scanning information, and other relevant details such as whether they were located quickly, stored properly, packaged, labeled correctly, or eligible for disposal. By doing so, you can identify and address issues related to organizational, storage, procedural, and disposition problems.

Tracker Products’ SAFE software generates a random list of items to audit, allowing you to select specific categories to investigate. Audits also help measure workflow and evaluate the success of an organization or activity, such as evidence transfer, through key performance indicators. The software enables you to review incoming and outgoing items and assign tasks to resolve any problems immediately.

Whether you’re looking at an internal process – where you’re auditing your own operations in a formal manner – or you’re going out and finding an external auditor – there are three things that you can do to prepare yourself for that audit process.

It’s important to understand the body of information that comes from 1) state laws, 2) your police department’s policies and procedures, and 3) general best practices. If you understand those three things on your own, then you’re going to be well-prepared to conduct an audit.

We recommend performing an audit at least once a year, with an independent representative present for objectivity. Without conducting an audit, agencies cannot understand or prove their own operations, potentially leading to future problems. By using Tracker Products’ SAFE software, you can reshape your evidence management practices and ensure the integrity of your evidence.

Inventories

Evidence Management

Inventories play a crucial role in evidence management for law enforcement agencies. While they may seem simple, they can be challenging to execute correctly, especially if agencies lack the appropriate technology or organizational structures. However, with the right tools, resources, and processes, conducting inventories can be achievable and sustainable.

Inventories begin with a comprehensive list of all evidence items in storage. It’s essential to check this list against the actual inventory to ensure that all items are accounted for and in their proper locations. This process helps agencies identify any discrepancies or errors in their record-keeping, making it easier to reconcile the accounts and ensure that evidence is not misplaced, lost, or stolen.

Performing inventories with at least two people present is recommended. This approach helps to ensure accountability and security and minimizes the likelihood of mistakes during the inventory process. With two sets of eyes on the task, errors are less likely to be overlooked, and the process is completed more efficiently.

It’s also essential to physically locate or account for each item during the inventory process, ensuring that the evidence is indeed present and accounted for. Breaking the inventory process into smaller parts and performing them over time can also help agencies better manage the task, reducing the chances of errors or omissions.

An inventory is critical for law enforcement agencies because they are legally responsible for all evidence items in their possession. Failing to maintain accurate records of evidence can undermine the credibility of the chain of custody, potentially compromising the admissibility of evidence in court. 

By conducting regular inventories, evidence custodians demonstrate their willingness to hold themselves accountable for managing evidence correctly, increasing their credibility and the credibility of the evidence they manage.

Evidence management inventories for law enforcement agencies ensure that evidence is accurately accounted for and can be located when needed. By conducting regular inventories, agencies can ensure that the chain of custody is maintained and that evidence is not lost or misplaced.

RELATED: EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT INVENTORIES: WHY, WHEN, AND HOW-TO

Inventories also help agencies identify any issues with their evidence management process, such as inadequate storage and procedural problems. By identifying these issues, agencies can take corrective action and improve their evidence management practices.

Additionally, inventories help agencies comply with their legal obligations to maintain the integrity of evidence in their possession. If evidence custodians are unaware of what is inside their evidence facility, they cannot effectively fulfill their obligations to maintain the chain of custody and ensure the credibility of evidence in a court of law.

Overall, inventories are essential for ensuring the accuracy, security, and accountability of evidence in law enforcement agencies. They enable agencies to meet their legal obligations, maintain the integrity of evidence, and identify areas for improvement in their evidence management practices.

Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to contribute to your ongoing education through… a series of FREE online evidence management training classes. You can also watch the Tracker Products webinars here, check out The Evidence Show! (recorded webinars) And, to get in on the discussion, with over 1000 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook. 

***NEW – FREE! In-Person, Two-Day Evidence Management Certification Training Classes