Evidence Management: Bowling Green PD Virtual Evidence Room Tour – Part 2
February 25, 2023
In the second half of this evidence management webinar, Ben Townsend of Tracker Products continued to interview David Bragg of the Bowling Green Police Department to gain 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 said, “Let’s go back to 2011 when you walked into the evidence room… Give us a brief overview of what you saw in addition to the software being extremely antiquated.”
David said, “The software was number one. If it’s not adequate then you’ve got a huge challenge to overcome. Second, was reviewing the staff. If they are disorganized by nature and they’re in your evidence room, they’re in the wrong place because you don’t want a disorganized person managing inventory. You’re gonna have a chaotic mess.
And we saw some of that here when I came back in late 2011. Some of the staffing had been a little disorganized; just some messy record-keeping filing and the organizational structure itself.”
Ben said, “One of the things I remember when you and I were first talking with each other was that you were very technical. Like, the things you were saying were not normal to me. I mean, I sit down with a lot of evidence techs, and I could tell that your desire to produce numbers and statistics was really, really important. Is that your personality, or where did that come from? I mean, you, you were in law enforcement for so many years.”
David said, “I have developed a reputation – nobody said that to my face – for having a little bit of OCD. I don’t say that myself, but I like order. I like neatness. So that’s part of my character. I have other weaknesses. Don’t get me wrong. But I’m more of an organized person. So, having that attribute probably helps a little bit in inventory management.”
Ben said, “I remember very specifically… In your mind, the number one thing you had to get resolved was to get a system that would allow you to produce this type of information. And you knew you did not have that.”
David said, “That was the first thing. On day one, I told my boss, The old system has to go. He was in agreement along with everyone else, all the way up to the Chief. So, from day one, I started researching evidence management systems out there. There were two or three that kinda rose to the top. I made calls and inquiries and actually benchmark-tested those. Yours being one of them. For two or three months, you gave me the ability to create an account and play around with it.”
Ben said, “Let’s dig into that real quick. There are probably people out here that are gonna be looking for evidence management systems. I don’t need you to expound on us, but how did you benchmark those things? What did you do to compare the two or three different systems that you were looking at?”
David said, “I basically set up a real-world scenario where we would make up fake evidence. We would intake it, we would shelve it, we would check it out, we would move it, and we would dispose of it. The whole scenario we created was designed to see how systems would work.
Ben said, “A lot of people just buy software on the recommendation of somebody else, and they don’t do all of that testing. The thing I remember about you… I was constantly getting questions about the documentation that we had. I had never seen anybody – before they bought the software – do the digging into the documentation that you had done. I was great with it, but I remember lots and lots of questions coming in. So, I knew you were doing your due diligence before picking the product.”
David said, “Our information technology department in the municipal department took our old evidence records and our old records management system and worked with your company to get the data migrated over. Once that data was migrated over, I was constantly checking to make sure that everything was entered correctly. The dates were correct…
We didn’t want any major hiccups occurring that might corrupt the data somehow, you know? And it went smoothly. There were a couple minor hiccups, which came from my end of it. Yeah. It went very smoothly. So yeah, I was a little anal about the data migrating over correctly.”
Ben laughed and said, “People might not like to use that word about themselves. But, in this world of inventory management, you want people that are fairly anal about a lot of things, especially the data that’s being brought in. If you’re not anal about your data, you’re gonna have all sorts of problems.
So, going back to 2011… You’re in the evidence room, and you’ve started to make some decisions about some things that needed to be changed. Was there anything about the physical facility that stood out to you as needing improvement?”
***Above are photos of the improvements
David said, “No, we’ve got a pretty good facility except for one component of it. We had an offsite bulk storage facility that would accommodate the storage of large items. It was an old converted evidence warehouse from an old fire station.
It was a mess there. I spent about two months getting that in order. Just strictly there every day.”
Ben said, “Let’s take another step in the process back then. You got your software. We imported a quarter of a million records – including disposed of evidence. You were sitting on 60,000 pieces of evidence. You finally got your software. And then I remember having the conversation, What do we do next?
I don’t know if you remember me telling you, Here’s what you need to do, and it’s gonna take you years to get that done. Do you remember what I told you you were gonna have to do?”
David said, “Disposition. Once all that data was converted over into our Tracker system, it did take us a number of years to get everything straight. I went in and just did a cursory look at some of the oldest evidence. We had an expired license plate that was taken off a car during a traffic stop 15 years ago. Well, it’s kinda crazy to keep an expired plate that long.
So, I knew we had a ton of inventory that we needed to purge out. So, we did in consultation with our legal office and our prosecutor’s office that first year after all that data got dumped into our new system, we purged out about 13,000 items that first year. And we gradually started changing our operation and got it to a point where it’s smooth for us.”
Ben said, “In hindsight, did you have any problems with that administrative purge? Was there any recourse?”
David said, “Thankfully, nothing ever came back to bite us. The prosecutor’s office looked at their current open, pending cases. So we felt relatively safe after talking with them. They said, Look, from this date back, we don’t have any pending cases. There are no appeals going on. So we did that big administrative purge.”
Ben took a question from the audience. “Somebody asked, What is an administrative purge?”
David said, “An administrative purge is… First of all, I’ll say it’s a risk. Okay. An administrative purge should only really be done one time. It’s usually done when things are out-of-control and really old. It’s like, I gotta get my evidence inventory under control. So, I’ve gotta make an arbitrary decision to get rid of some of this stuff. And I can’t research every single thing cause it’ll take me years.
Basically, it’s a risk-purge in which you feel comfortable saying that everything I’m getting rid of won’t be needed. My boss had to sign off on it. The chief had to sign off on it. The prosecutor’s office had to agree with it, saying, Yes, we’re in agreement, you can get rid of it.”
Ben said, “That’s a really big deal because you’re not going through your normal checks and balances of every item and every case and researching it as you normally would. This is sort of a necessity of, Hey, we’re gonna line up a bunch of stuff. We’re gonna do a big one-time purge, and we’re gonna get everybody to sign off on it. But they understand the risk. My guess is you didn’t get rid of any items that might be in question. This was probably stuff that was like, Man, there’s no way there’s value to this.”
David said, “Exactly. You don’t administrative purge any evidence related to homicides, sexual assault, or major crime cases. Basically, we were purging out misdemeanor stuff that was old. But your low felonies, like property crimes, burglaries, thefts, those kinds of things.”
Ben said, “Let’s look at the next step in the process…You’ve got your software up and running, you’ve got 60,000 pieces of evidence that are active., and you just got rid of 13,000 of them. So, you were sitting at roughly 45,000 pieces of evidence, but you don’t even know if the data from the old system is still good. I mean, there’s a process of working all of that out. So, over the next couple of years, you moved every piece of evidence from its existing storage location to somewhere else. But you did something with all that evidence. Maybe explain that a little bit.”
David said, “Basically, there was a lot of cursory review of it. So, if it was a major case, we steer clear. We know we’re gonna have to sit on this stuff. But, with other items, we actually did some research ourselves in the evidence room of some old evidence. Now, two people can’t research 50 to 60,000 items. It’s a physical impossibility. So, we did a little at a time.
But then we got the idea to get the court destruction template from our prosecutor’s office, and we said, Look, rather than us sending a lot of this stuff over and your support staff having to research and type up the court order, how about I do the court order and send it over to your prosecutor to review it, sign off on it and send it up to the judge for a signature?
So we did some of that. But that’s a slow process. You’re not gonna be able to do a lot of that with 50, 60,000 items. So, every year when these disposition sheets go out – and we’d only do it once a year, which is a need for improvement for our agency – we would get those dispo sheets back in which officers are marking this stuff for disposal.
But, what do you do when you have somebody who’s resigned, quit, or retired, and they’re not reviewing their own evidence? That’s a challenge with any department. It’s still a challenge for us. But occasionally, when we have modified the role duty officers – because of an injury or something, and they’re gonna be on desk duty for a significant period of time – we will send the retiree dispo requests to the modified duty officers to research them, mark it up and send it back to us. And that’s, that’s been helpful.”
Ben said, “A couple of questions have come in, Can you do an administrative purge on firearms?”
David said, “No administrative purge on firearms or money. We could on drugs, if the cases have been adjudicated, but not firearms.
For disposition on our misdemeanors, we have three divisions. The district court, and each of those three divisions, handles our misdemeanor cases. We approached our county attorney, which handles all the cases in district court, asking if she would do an administrative order and get all three district judges to sign it. And it is an administrative order saying that 90 days post adjudication date – if there are no appeals pending – you may destroy misdemeanor evidence, with exception of firearms, money, and jewelry.
Now, we have that standing order, and it goes out with the officer disposition sheets so that they know here’s the order authorizing you to get rid of it. So misdemeanor evidence stays pretty clean from year to year.”
Ben said, “I’ve got some pictures on the screen here of what looks to be a really, really organized evidence room. Let me pop these up here… That’s actually where you’re sitting right now, right? You’re at the desk that’s in that picture, so this is your main evidence storage, is that correct?”
David said, “Yep, that’s it. We use these high and extra rolling shelves, which you can maximize your storage in a smaller footprint. So that helps if you’ve got restricted space.”
Ben said, “How are you looking on space right now? I’m just curious if I were to go in and look around your room – especially given last year’s purge – my assumption is you’ve got plenty of space on those shelves.”
David said, “Yeah, we’re in good shape.”
Ben shared the next photo…
Ben asked, “Is that all your drug evidence or …?
David said, “No, that’s general evidence. Most of our evidence will fit in those two sizes of evidence envelope. We slide ’em in. You can see the barcode label, the white label, is attached to the packages.”
Ben said, “I’m just curious, do you group all that stuff by the case number or do you just put it up on the shelf? How do you know what’s where?”
David said, “No, we do whatever shelf is available. You can see each of those cubbies there, is an individual storage location. So, if you look at the top right space, we’ve got space in there, so we’ll scan the barcode location and put it in there numerically. It goes from old to new. So when an officer comes to check something out, they give us the case number and item number. We know exactly where it’s stored and can go and pull it.
Our entire system is paperless using Tracker. We get their signature like the FedEx and the UPS guys do. So we’re not keeping a paper chain of custody records.”
Ben said, “I set you up a little bit with that question cuz I will tell you there is no topic in our company that will cause greater division between Tracker employees than having a discussion about how to store evidence on a shelf like this.
I advocate your methodology, but there are people in our company that items should be ordered by case number, and as you dispose of things, you just shift it to the left versus, in your methodology, you’re just filling in holes.”
David said, “I will say that the more you move your evidence chances of an error occurring go up. So the more you move things around, the easier it is to make mistakes. So we just fill in the gaps. Because, if somebody comes to ask for that item, we know exactly where it is. It’s in one of those little cubbies there.
If you do it numerically by a whole shelf, then when gaps occur, you’re constantly moving and wasting human resource power to shift everything. That’s why I hate that.”
Ben said, “Somebody asked the question, Do you try and put a case together on a shelf, or could it be all over the place?”
David said, “We do try to keep everything married together. But as you know, you may have a large case where items fill up an entire bin and then six months after that initial intake, you got more evidence coming in. So you may have to shove it to another location. But with a good evidence management system, that’s not an issue.
And we do an inventory once a year; a hundred percent inventory. So if something’s been misplaced, you’ll pick it up during inventory.”
Ben said, “Comments are coming in. I’m telling you, there’s something about that topic that… there seems to be two hard-lined opinions on that.”
David said, “It can be controversial. But this system has worked out well for us. I would never badmouth another system, if they do it differently and it works, then that’s fine, you know?”
Ben said, “A new question came in, Where do you store non-evidentiary property as in imprisoned property, found property, et cetera?
David said, “There’s no prisoner property stored here, period. Okay. If it’s personal property that belongs to an inmate, it has to stay at the jail facility. But, found property… we store it here. We did not designate a found property storage location because we can find it easily.
As a matter of fact, when you create in your offenses, you know… burglary and homicide and so forth… we have an offense called Found Property. So, every week we query a report for found property that’s over 90 days old. And if it’s not claimed, we go pull it and dispose of it. You can easily find it with a good evidence management system.”
Ben said, “Is there anything that you want to elaborate on, I’m just sort of rolling through some of the pictures of your evidence room.”
David said, “Yeah. I don’t know how many people are using containers. Containers are basically several items grouped together inside one container. That came up a few years ago, and initially, I was opposed to it. And then, I quickly realized how wrong I was. It’s actually worked out really well.
We made a move when we went from our old bulk storage facility to our new storage facility. We were already preparing for that move when we put things in containers. So, I would scan that one barcode, and everything in that container [or box] would move with it to the new location.”
Ben said, “Dana asked the question, What is a container? Bottom line, they are sealed boxes. So that barcode on the outside of it(pictured above) represents all of the items inside of it. All you have to do is scan that one barcode on the outside and then it takes care of everything that’s inside of it.
To be a container, it’s gotta be sealed. If it’s not sealed, I would not treat it as a container. And scanning that barcode on the outside of a box that isn’t sealed, that’s setting you up for some serious heartache when something gets moved outta that box and then you’re scanning barcodes on the outside of it.
David, would you agree? I can see all the evidence tape. You only use containers on sealed boxes. Right?”
David said, “Right. There’s another photo that has a container that has a green label on it.
As you can see, it’s sealed with evidence tape. We’ve got two people signing off on the evidence tape. And then we put this sticker on both seals – top and bottom of the box – showing that the contents were inventoried and were confirmed to be in there. Two people sign off on it, date it, and we seal that up.
As an agency, you can say, Hey look, when we’re doing inventory, we scan that one barcode, and it counts the inventory inside it. Every five years, we’ll open up the container and confirm it and then seal it back up.”
Ben said, “Somebody wants to know where you got those green labels. I’m assuming you just ordered those online somewhere.”
David said, “Actually, I’ll promote a company here – Uline.com. You can buy and customize a lot of products on Uline.com. So, we had those custom labels manufactured. And actually, the evidence tape is polypropylene box sealing tape. We had it customized at Uline and we use that to seal up our boxes.”
Ben said, “Let’s look at some other pictures here…
This is what everybody wants to see their evidence room look like. So if there’s anything that stands out, just yeah, why don’t you explain this real quick? I see it has a destruction label on it. So what do you have going on here?”
David said, “This is in our drug room. Once a drug item’s been approved for destruction – either by the officer or the court order – we scan the items in there, seal up the containers and mark them as destruction containers.
Prior to destruction – we incinerate all of these at a commercial incineration plant – a person from professional standards will come down, audit those containers, and then they will seal them up, and the auditor will initial off on it. We will initialize it too, and then they’ll be taken to the incinerator.”
Ben said, “That’s your intake area. David, your officers enter all their own evidence and print their labels. They do all that. Right?”
Davis said, “That’s the only way to go. If we did it the old way, where they’re filling out paper and then submitting it to the evidence staff to enter that data in your evidence and management system, that’s redundant. There are two people doing the same thing. So, if you’re doing that, I would encourage you to change that. “
Ben said, “There’s no splitting hairs on that one. Some people may not have a choice, but if there was one thing in your evidence room that you could do to make the most impact, it would be making sure your officers enter their own evidence. That’s, that’s for sure.”
David added, “They know everything about that evidence. You know nothing about that evidence coming in.
This is our new bulk facility here on our grounds that was just built a couple of years ago. By the way, that analytical chart was submitted to help justify the construction of this facility right here.”
Ben said, “I think we’re coming to the end. So, is this like an intake room?”
David said, “This is in the bulk storage facility. It’s a bay that’s reserved for vehicle processing. We’ve got budget restraints, so we didn’t put in a hydraulic lift, but we’ve got a set budget, and couldn’t afford it.”
Ben said, “This looks like bulk storage here. Is this downstairs? I don’t even remember seeing this. What is this in that new facility?”
David said, “Yeah, it’s in the new facility. It wasn’t here when you were here. That’s our bulk storage on the first floor. We’ve got manual stairs up to the second floor. It was costly to put in an elevator. It also takes up some of the footprint in your storage facility too.”
“That’s our second-floor storage. Primarily, we are archiving things up there. Long-term storage for a lot of biohazard, DNA stuff. We will eventually move some archived homicide evidence up to the second floor.”
Ben said, “Somebody asked a question… They’re about to remodel. What is your one piece of advice for her?”
David said, “For evidence storage, you need to maximize your footprint. So, these high-index rolling shelves will accomplish that. If you’re designing a new building from scratch, try to have a release area near the public entrance.”
Ben said, “I’ll add to that and say an evidence management system is number one. I think David would agree with that. If you have high index storage, but don’t have a good system for managing and storing evidence, the rest of that isn’t gonna matter.”
David agreed, “Yeah. That is number one. Aside from your facility, number one is a great evidence management system, and number two is an organized staff.”
Ben said, “I will tell you, what David has done over a 10-year period of time with all the charts, graphs, and inventory is amazing. So kudos to you.
Well, it looks like we’re out of time. David, this was awesome. I really do appreciate you coming here today and spending an hour talking with us. I’m certain I speak for everybody when I say I appreciate you sharing all that you did.
I’d like to get other people to commit to coming on and showing off their evidence rooms. So for everybody that’s on here, if you were at all interested in hosting one of these things, we would absolutely love to have you take part in one of these virtual tours. I think these are the best things we do.
David, again, thank you so much for being here.”
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