Evidence Management Success: Clay County Sheriff’s Office
December 10, 2020
Recently, we interviewed Mike Dale, a Sergeant from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office; asking him to share some of his biggest challenges and most notable solutions since taking over the evidence unit in 2013. As with other, similar interviews, our intention is to create a sense of community for evidence custodians, wherein they can learn from each other and initiate positive change for their own departments.
We began with the basics, “Will you tell us a little bit about your department and professional history, Mike?”
He said, “I came here in 2013 and I’m assigned to the field operations division, which is: the road patrol, detective unit, and drug squad. We have three divisions: administrative – community court services which is courts, a civil unit- fugitive unit, the school resource deputies, and then we also have the detention operation.
So, I’m in field operations and I am Sergeant of Support Services. We do everything that we can to help the deputies out in the field; just make their jobs a little easier. We handle all the evidence. We have the watch guard camera system that we take care of. We assist with search warrants. And, we are also in charge of the equipment; when new people come in, we get them all set up.”
Tracker asked, “What did you do before you came here in 2013?”!
Mike said, “I worked for a small agency where I’d lived in Smithville, Missouri. where the chief asked if I’d be interested in taking over the evidence.”
Tracker asked, “In that previous position, what type of evidence management system were you using?”
Mike said, “That was all paper and pen.”
Tracker asked, “You started with the SAFE technology in 2016, is that correct?”
Mike said, “Yeah. I think we probably bought it at the end of 2016. We didn’t really go live with it until… I think it was March of 2017.”
Tracker asked, “And what evidence management tools did you use before you went to SAFE?”
Mike said, “Well, it was a little bit of a nightmare. We had a reporting system, and it had an evidence system in it, but it was very archaic. Things were entered into the computer, but control numbers were all manual. There was a log book where you actually entered the case. So, it was a little bit half and half.
But, there were no other features to it. That’s all we used it for. We had the log book that showed exactly what bins things were in and where it [the evidence] was at. I mean, you could find things pretty easily, but it was just very, very time consuming. Let’s say it’s an investigative case where things weren’t all put in at the same time; you had stuff come in months down the road. It was just very hard to kind of keep track of all of that.
I could say that the Sheriff’s Office was pretty organized. But, then we also had the drug task force unit, which was in a different building. And, for some reason, they were never taught the reporting system part of it. So, when we took over that unit, theirs was all paper. The whole thing was just all on that in a book, and there was no organization to it whatsoever. It was just a monstrous mess. And, they used bins that were organized by letter. So, whatever the suspect’s last name was, that’s where it went and it was thrown into a plastic tub. If you needed it down the road, you literally had to dump the tub in the middle of the floor and dig through it to see if you could find it.
I was here for about six months or eight months before I was ever even informed that this [unit] existed. One day the captain came in and said, Well, I need you to go down there and start working there too. I just remember walking in the very first day and looking at that… I really didn’t know what to do. I mean, it was just stuff piled up all over the floor. These big tubs just full of stuff.
I went home and I thought, I don’t even know where to start. I went back a couple of days later and I thought… The only thing I can do is just start taking each bin, dumping it, and getting everything in at least in numeric order. We dealt with that for probably about a year and then finally, got them into the report system. At least we had the two systems kind of working in the same direction. When we took on Tracker, that’s when everything changed.”
Tracker asked, “How many police officers are with Clay County?”
Mike said, “The department has roughly around 250 employees and 125 to 150 [of them are] sworn officers. The rest are civilian.”
Tracker asked, “And the size of the community that your Sheriff’s Office serves?”
Mike said, “We’re Clay County, one of the Northern counties of Kansas City, Missouri. The big majority of it is within the city limits of Kansas City. And then there are a lot of smaller communities that are incorporated parts of the County. So, the County is about 275,000 [people] altogether.”
Tracker asked, “Why did you guys decide to switch to Tracker in particular? And then, what was the transition like for you?”
Mike said, “We first heard about it when we went to an IAPE conference or training. There were two companies we listened to. There was just the feeling that Tracker was easier to use. And then the way the pricing was set up, it just seemed like it was easier to get it implemented because of how you priced it.
And then the other big thing was… Excelsior Springs had been using it. So, we knew somebody that was using it. A couple of us went up there and Larry showed us all the benefits of it. He was so involved in it… it was like, Okay, you’re kind of close. If we have problems… He was very helpful if we’d have a question or something back in the day. So, he was probably the deciding factor for us to go for it.
And then, just before we made the decision, I took the Captain, a Lieutenant and a Sergeant – that was in charge of field operations – and went back up to Excelsior Springs. Larry showed them how easy this system was. I wanted them on board before I went any further. Cause if there was a pushback – because people don’t like change – they knew how it worked and that they would be supportive of it.
But, I was very surprised. We went live in 2017 and from day one, there was never one complaint at all. They [the officers] understood it and it just was flawless.”
Tracker said, “There was some lag time between when you first purchased SAFE and when you were active. Why was that?”
Mike said, “We bought it in 2016 because we needed to get it before the end of the budget. And then we were trying to get everything set up and it took us a little bit longer because we weren’t quite ready on our end to do it. We were doing a test run in Tracker just to see how it all worked. We did both of them [SAFE and the old reporting system] side by side for a while. And then we just picked. Like I said, I think it was like March 1st, 2017 when we decided… we’re switching.”
Tracker asked, “What were the first steps of changing over to Tracker? I mean, did you do an inventory?”
Mike said, “Let’s maybe go back a little bit… The evidence room that we had here was set up with bins and locations and stuff, but the shelving units were extremely packed. I mean, there was just no room.
There was a little bit of money coming in from the seizures and stuff from the drug squad. The Captain came up one day and said, Get a bid on a new shelving system. I said, You know, it’s going to be way too much money. And he goes, No, find out how much it costs. And so we got a bid on doing the rolling shelving units. And he said, Just go for it. And so we started to get all the bins and everything more organized.
I think maybe that’s a little bit of the reason we were kind of holding off on using Tracker until we got that stuff in. At that point, we just started putting everything into the Tracker system. As we went along, if there was a case we knew wasn’t going away for two or three years, we would just transfer it over into the Tracker. And so [now], we just have some old drug cases that are finally getting through the old report system and we’ll be about out of it.”
Tracker asked, “So, you’ve already reorganized the evidence management facility?”
Mike said, “Yeah, it was completely redone. They were really pretty quick with getting the shelving in. And then, less than a year later, we bumped down a wall and put in pass-through lockers. I will say they did that very well. We’re all set up.”
Tracker said, “What’s the most unusual item that you found when you were going through things from as far back as the 90’s?”
Mike laughed and said, “There were file cabinets… There were some files in there and such. When we were trying to get everything organized, we did find the cremations of some individual that died. Don’t know why we had them in a file drawer. I assume that they had no family and that could bury them. We turned those over because the County is supposed to take care of that.”
Tracker said, “That would bring us naturally to your disposition process, but let’s talk about intake first. Are officers responsible for part of that?”
Mike said, “We actually set up an evidence working station; an area for all the supplies. So, when they come in, they get everything packaged and entered into the system, labels are printed and put on the items. Then, they just take them to the temporary lockers and they go into there. Whoever is working in there will get them out of the back, get them into the Tracker system, and put them in a [permanent] location.
Tracker said, “Okay. Let’s move to disposition. Do you use SAFE’s auto-disposition feature?”
Mike said, “Oh yeah. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons we wanted it. I don’t know if we do this differently than a lot of people, but, every day we come in and there are the notices that say, Hey, you need to look at this. We don’t throw them back to the deputies who entered it. Sabrina Whiteman came on July 17th. She’s just fantastic. She’s extremely organized, so she takes care of all of those every day. They come up and she’s getting onto the court records and finding out where the cases are at. And she does all the destruction orders that have to go through the prosecutor’s office and all the paperwork to get everything ready for destruction.
We have gotten to the point… for every one thing that comes in, one thing is going out now. The only thing that could improve it is the prosecutor’s office, signing off on the paperwork faster. Right now they probably have 15 destruction orders sitting over there that we’re waiting for the judge and the prosecutor to sign off on.”
Tracker asked, “Are there any features that surprised you – and you like – about SAFE?
Mike said, “The duplication thing works very well. Say one of the guys from the drug task force is assigned to the Kansas City Airport. And they picked up a guy that had three gigantic suitcases full of sealed packages of marijuana; that had come from Colorado to Kansas City.
He came in to package like eight or nine boxes of marijuana packages. He said I’ll just make one label for all of them. I said, No, you can’t do that. He was kind of like, I don’t want to have to do nine different labels. I showed him how to duplicate it, duplicate it, duplicate it, and… you’re done. So, that one makes their job a lot easier.”
Tracker asked, “Have you tried the ‘Split’ feature?”
Mike said, “I do know that it’s in there, but I don’t think we’ve had to use that one.”
Tracker said, “There’s so much more to discover!”
Mike said, “One thing I’ve always wanted was for you to have a user conference where people could come talk about, Hey, I use this… There’s so much stuff in there…I’m sure there are things that we don’t even know about. I think you were going to have one in Minneapolis. I don’t think it’s still on, is it?”
Tracker said, “We had to postpone those due to COVID; we’re hoping to bring those back next year. There’ll be three or four different ones scheduled for SAFE certification training. It’ll be an awesome class when we can have it.”
Tracker said, “One last question… Have you ever reached out to Tracker for support?”
Mike said, “Oh yeah… a lot. Almost once every week we’d sit down to talk with Rob [in support and implementation]. We did that for at least a month or two. He would just call in every week – kind of had a standing conference call with him – just to make sure that everything was going good. Anytime we’ve ever had any problems, whatsoever, they’ve always just been right there, ready to help.”
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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