Evidence Management: Bowling Green PD Virtual Evidence Room Tour – Part 1
February 24, 2023
In this evidence management webinar, Ben Townsend of Tracker Products interviewed David Bragg of the Bowling Green Police Department to give a little bit of insight into the ongoing improvement efforts of their evidence management agency in Kentucky. It took David several years to get his property room cleaned up and running smoothly. We are going to see how he did it!
Ben started the interview by saying, “When you graduated college and landed in Bowling Green, you started with The Bowling Green PD? Why did you choose that PD?”
David said, “It’s the third largest city in the state, and they had a reputation of being a good agency. So I applied in 1980 and was hired. I retired in late 2005 as a detective. After a few years, I got bored. The department called me in 2011 and asked if I would come back and work in our evidence room.”
Ben laughed and said, “Can you really claim retirement if your second stint is almost as long as the first one?”
David said, “Probably not.”
Ben added, “That’s an interesting concept… you retired from the agency that you were working for, and you’re still there 12 years later. At some point, you’ve just gotta say, I’ve been with this agency for X number of years, and you just go all the way back to the beginning.
So what did you start out doing with the Bowling Green PD? I mean, you didn’t go right into evidence in 1980. What have you done up until you got into evidence?”
David said, “I worked patrol for a number of years, then I was assigned to our investigative unit before ‘retiring.’ In 2011 our previous chief called and asked if I’d be interested in coming back to work in our evidence room. There are two of us that work here. We’re both civilian employees, both full-time employees that handle our evidence room. I enjoyed my first career. This is a little different, but I’ve enjoyed it as well.”
Ben said, “Did you ever imagine landing in the evidence room? I mean, when you got a call about working in the evidence room, what was the first thing that popped into your mind?”
David said, “The first thing I thought was, I’m glad the call came because I was really bored in retirement. And secondly, I thought, Evidence? I’ve never managed inventory, so what kind of challenge will this be?
And it was a challenge. We had an old evidence module that was connected to our records management system, and it was severely inadequate. To say it was terrible is probably being kind about it. We had some new staff coming in, so there was a bit of a challenge that occurred initially.”
Ben asked, “Did you have any idea of what you were walking into?”
David said, “No. I’d never physically been in our evidence room prior to retirement, except for submitting evidence for intake. So, I had no idea what our operation looked like behind the secure area in our evidence room.”
Ben asked, “Did they tell you anything about what you were walking into? Or did you literally just take it blindly? Maybe a better question would be… Did you ask any questions about what you were walking into? And if you did, did you get any answers?”
David said, “Yeah, I actually did. I called a retired evidence custodian who’d just recently retired. I was probing her with questions about what I was actually getting into. So, she gave me a little bit of a heads-up on what to expect.
But it was still somewhat surprising once I got here. Particularly how terrible it was to manage our evidence based on our old evidence module. I sat down not long after being hired back, and I counted the number of keystrokes it took to log a piece of evidence into temporary storage and then to secure it in permanent storage. It was over a hundred and some keystrokes, not counting the descriptive data of the item you’re putting in.”
Ben asked, “So what was it like when you got in there? If you can, just give me just a visual of what it looked like back then. Now, I can look at the shelves behind you, and I’m like, Wow, that looks pretty clean! But, I’m curious… when you finally did get into the evidence room, what did you see when you got in there?”
David said, “What you see behind me are high-index rolling shelves. (Which you can see in the image below.) Those were in place already, and it was somewhat organized. But, if an officer came to the window to check something out, it was a challenge to find items because the storing system was disorganized. And our bulk-storage facility at the time – I’ll be kind here – was a little messy.”
Ben changed gears and said, “We’ve got a question from the audience that came in. Somebody’s asking, How big is the Bowling Green PD? So, David, before we get into what this report (below) is, let’s just get some really basic information about your agency so that everybody knows the size of it.”
David said, “We have an allocated human resource allotment of 130 officers. This is a municipal police department. It’s about 75,000 population, with an entire county population of about 130,000. But this community serves the entire south central Kentucky area of commerce and industry.”
Ben said, “Excellent. And you mentioned earlier that you have two full-time custodians in the evidence room. And it looks like you’re managing somewhere in the range of 36 to up to 50,000 pieces of evidence every year.”
David said, “Yes. We’re averaging a monthly intake of probably 750 to 800 items per month. 50% of our inventory is media related, which means it’s body cams, car cams, and hard burns on a disk.
That’s one of the challenges that we’re looking at here; perhaps we could lessen inventory if we can get this media, which includes some video and audio interviews by officers and investigators – and the body cam and car cam – on cloud storage. Then, we wouldn’t have that large media inventory there.
Ben said, “I think it’s cool, David, that you have this report available and ready. Who do you send this report to, and why do you send this thing out?
David said, “It goes to my immediate boss, which is the commander of logistics, and it makes its way up to the chain to the Chief. The reason we send this out is so that we can make projections. For example, where we might be reaching capacity or that we need to get rid of some things. So, it’ll make its way up to the Chief, and it holds the department – and maybe leadership specifically – accountable for the state of the evidence room.”
Ben said, “I think that’s an interesting statement because I think a lot of people probably feel like the organization doesn’t care about what’s going on until there’s a problem. There’s no doubt that attention is paid when there’s a problem. But how do you get your agency involved or engaged before the problem comes to your front door? This is certainly one of the ways. Has anybody asked you for this, or did you just take it on your own to report this stuff?”
David said, “The two of us decided that this was what we needed to do. We started it not long after you and I met. We didn’t have the capability of doing this with our old evidence model. So, once we converted to the current Tracker product, which is SAFE, it was easy to do.
If you do this kind of proper analysis, it’s hard for the department to say no if you have a specific need. For example, we had an old bulk-storage facility, and we were looking to build a new one. The process of getting it approved was underway, and we submitted this type of analysis to our board of commissioners. They determined – based on the analysis we provided – that there was a genuine need to build a new bulk-storage facility. It was completed about three years ago on our grounds here.
That’s our monthly intake…
It’s averaging pretty consistently; we can project that we’re gonna have 750 to 800 items coming in per month. That trends almost year to year.”
Ben said, “The part that I want to elaborate on is, so many times, people feel like their agency doesn’t care what’s going on. What David is showing here is that you can’t wait for the agency to come to you and ask about what you need. That simply doesn’t work. You have to take the initiative from your side to begin to push this stuff up the chain.
And I would say there’s a difference between walking into the chief’s office and saying, Hey, we got an evidence problem. I need more money. If you’re doing this type of data tracking consistently over a period of time and making them aware of what’s going on, your argument of walking in and saying, Hey, you know all that data I’ve been feeding you for years, how it’s been showing that space is running out, the argument has already been made.
This document is the argument, not your verbal argument. Nobody asked David for it. What he said that I think is so important is that he went to them with the data and not just a vague problem. It was just, Hey, here’s what the data is. I’m guessing you thought that it was a setup for an ‘ask’ down the road, but it was presented as, Hey, you’ve got all this data. Now you can see the problems I’ve got going on.”
David added, “By the nature of the operation within a department, evidence is sort of outta sight, outta mind. It’s a secure area. People can’t freely come and go. So they don’t have a picture of what you’re looking at. And this reveals the state of your evidence room.
You can’t ignore it. Or, if a department does choose to ignore it, and something goes horribly wrong, then you’ve got this report indicating that year after year, this was presented.”
Ben changed gears and said, “The big thing that most people in evidence care about is how much you are bringing in and how much you are sending out every year. From a quick spot check, I can see that in two out of the last five years, you’ve disposed of more evidence than you’ve brought in, but something really big happened in 2021. Why was there such a massive amount of disposals last year versus the four years prior to that?”
David said, “In this state, we do not have a statute of limitations on felonies. So, you may be stuck with holding a class D – which is a low felony – for a long time if an officer’s not feeling comfortable getting rid of that. So, last year we developed a flow chart, in consultation with our prosecutor’s office, to guide officers in making the decision about Do we hold it? Do we get rid of it? As a result of that flow chart, you can see that we had a mass purging that occurred.”
Ben said, “Earlier, David said something about auto dispo – a term our listeners may not know about. Auto Disposition is a feature of Tracker Products’ SAFE software that, when cases come up for review, sends out a notification to the officer. It’s all done electronically.
But the point he’s making is they don’t use that feature in their organization. They use a more manual process of paper. So, David developed a flow chart to help them better understand what to do with evidence. And somehow, they went from almost no dispo to – just because you developed an Excel document – your dispo blew out the roof. So, you’re gonna have to elaborate on that a little bit for me and probably everybody else…”
David said, “Again, without a statute of limitations, you may be holding something for a long time because officers are apprehensive about getting rid of it. So, we talked to our prosecutor’s office about, When would you not prosecute a low-level felony case? He said, I’m not prosecuting a case after three years.
So, you can go down this flow chart – it might look a little complicated, but once you start flowing, it goes pretty quickly. It pushes you in a direction. If this is a homicide, a sexual assault, or some DNA, then you immediately stop at that point. Meaning, you keep the evidence.
You follow the flow chart around, and it will push you in a different direction if there’s a defendant or no defendant, for example. And it flows you directly to a decision about whether to hold it, consult with a prosecutor to get rid of it or get a court order to get rid of it. And that was actually very helpful in seeing that huge 17,000 number pop up on dispositions for 2021.”
Ben said, “I’m stunned by what I’m seeing here because I’ve never heard of this. I’ve heard of all sorts of things to help aid disposition, but you created a flow chart out of an Excel doc to train people about when it was okay to dispose of evidence. You’re doing a manual paper-driven process. I would’ve said it would be impossible to pull this off. You created this, and you doubled your disposition for a year. I mean, that’s a totally David thing to do. So good for you.”
David said, “I’d run it through your legal staff or your prosecutor’s office to see if they’re on board with it, first. And I would think that wouldn’t be an issue.”
Ben said, “A lot of people are asking the question, Can we get a copy of this? I did post to the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook, under the “Files” tab. There are over a thousand people in this group right now. And you want to be in there because it’s where people are asking questions and finding out how to do things. That document is phenomenal. Is there anything else you wanna toss out about that?”
David said, “No. It’s pretty self-explanatory if you just follow it. And you can modify it to fit your agency.”
Ben said, “That’s the explanation as to why you doubled your disposition. Has your agency staff looked at that report? I’m guessing I’m not the first person that’s seen it.”
David said, “Yeah, it went right up to our boss. And, I’ll give kudos… Our agency has been very supportive of our evidence operation. Without that, we wouldn’t be sitting as well as we currently are. Don’t get me wrong, we have room for improvement ourselves.”
Ben said, “While everybody has room for improvement, there are a lot of people watching this right now saying, I’ll take this improvement right here. But you know, you’ve gotta start somewhere. I want to encourage everybody to aim for improvement, not perfection. David started this process 10 years ago, so this was not an overnight success.
I think another thing you throw in here is your drug intake and your outtake. I assume I know why you focus on that one, but do you want to add anything to that?”
David said, “Drugs take up a huge amount of space. It’s the second most inventoried item sitting in here. So we wanted to address that. And drugs, money, firearms, those are kind of high profile categories anyway.”
Ben said, “Let me throw out a couple of questions from the audience that I skipped over. Krista asked, How do you handle evidence that is also considered a record? Because sometimes the length of time to keep it is different.”
David said, “Yeah, we took a look at that. Some open-record laws affect certain items. But, the courts have actually issued orders for us to destroy items like this. So, they’re on board with it. I’m assuming that question is talking about perhaps photographs?”
Ben said, “I don’t know specifically what she’s asking about. It just says records. So Krista, if that didn’t answer your question and you want more specifics, just post something back in there and let me see.”
David said, “We don’t have any records on file here. It’s just actually items have been submitted as evidence. Records retention versus evidence statute of limitations are two separate issues. You have some records retention laws that govern reports like collision, homicide any other kind of crime reporting. If you really dug into your state’s record retention laws, you’ll probably find that they are severely outdated.”
Ben added, “I think the other thing David said that I would really encourage is honest talk with your attorneys. Talk with the people that are in charge of this, get their answers, and then you can run with it.
It would be even better to walk in with that flow chart and say, Hey, here’s what I’m thinking of. Can you sign off on this or help me with it? It’s always better to walk in with a solution than to walk with a problem.
On a different note, you specifically said you don’t include a lot of information in the reports. The whole report is only nine or 10 pages. Why do you limit the information that you give them?”
David said, “It’s mostly graphs and a little bit of commentary. If it’s too much, nobody’s gonna read it. So, you keep it short. Your graphs are the telltale sign of the status of your evidence management unit. They may look at that and not read the commentary along with it.”
Ben concluded the first half of the webinar by saying, “That certainly gives everybody a bit of an overview as to numbers and the size. Thanks, David.”
In the second part of this webinar, Ben and David will discuss the physical changes that took place in the evidence management department. Be prepared to be blown away by David’s unique solutions!
Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to contribute to your ongoing education through… a series of FREE online evidence management training classes. Watch and comment on the Tracker Products webinars here. Check out The Evidence Show! And to get in on the discussion, with over 1000 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.