Evidence Management Success: Nicholasville Police Department
September 30, 2020
We interviewed Matthew Godsey, a Lieutenant with the Nicholasville Police Department, who took over the property and evidence operations at the beginning of 2020. The city has a population of about 30,000 people, with 65 officers serving the community. Changing roles can be both challenging and rewarding. We asked Matthew to tell us a little bit about his journey into the world of evidence management.
He said, “Before coming to the evidence unit, I did 20 years on patrol and left there as the Patrol Lieutenant. I was getting toward retirement eligibility. At the time, our clerk was leaving pretty abruptly, so they asked me if I was interested in stepping in. Unfortunately, I only had one day to train with him, and I’ve not had any specific training in evidence management. It’s been eye-opening for me, but I’ve enjoyed the challenge. I come at it with a different perspective, I think.
Tracker asked, “Why did you step up to the plate for this position when you were so near retirement?”
Matthew said, “Once I hit my 20 – and eligible to retire – I was trying to find a different career avenue. This opportunity presented itself and I sat down and thought about it. We’ve got a new police department to build – we actually break ground on it later this week – and with that, they’re building a much larger, and more up to date evidence facility.
So, they offered me an opportunity to come in, get up to speed and help them get [the facility] the way that it needs to be. And, also to improve our practices, and policies, and help them flesh it out to make sure it’s running the best that it can. So again, having no background in it, that’s definitely a challenge, but it was one that I was looking forward to. It kind of gives me a totally different aspect of my career then I’ve had over the last 20 years.”
Tracker asked, “What’s been the biggest learning curve for you?”
Matthew laughed and said, “Pretty much everything. I had no idea how much went into the actual disposal of evidence; having to get it justified and get the court orders of the property approved. And how detailed the records have to be. I saw it from the officer point of view; and even as a supervisor. All I did was sign off on the submission of it. I knew how it had to be packaged when we turned it in, but I didn’t really know what our clerk did with it after that… until it was time to take it to court… or something like that.
So, that’s been a steep learning curve. Luckily, Tracker’s SAFE system has been very user friendly for me, and for my captain; Captain Fleming. He is the one directly in charge of this section of the department. He was behind the decision to stay with Tracker and switch from [the previous version called] Fluid to SAFE. So, he had at least some experience with it and he was able to help me get the basics.
With the SAFE system, of course, labels clearly indicate the case and what’s in the package. So it’s a lot easier to track back down if something’s not matching up. When it was switched over, he said it was much easier to use and gave us a lot more access to information. Captain Fleming’s the one that walked me through some of the features and showed me – most importantly – the help side of it; the support site and everything else.”
Tracker asked, “Have you reached out directly to the support staff at Tracker for anything?”
Matthew said, “Yes, ma’am, it’s been pretty invaluable. Sometimes I’ve just gotten on there to look through the articles, and then customer support will chime in and ask me if there’s something they could help with. I’ve used it at least three different times. I try to go to [Tracker’s] Wiki site first, to see if I can nail it down myself. If not, I’ll go into there and just ask directly. And it’s been amazing. They were very, very helpful every time.”
Tracker said, “You must be relatively technically savvy to have picked up on it with one session.”
Matthew said, “It’s a lot of trial and error, but I’ve been doing online school since 2015 – through Eastern Kentucky University – and finished out my degree in May. So, I wouldn’t say I’m tech savvy, but I can get around enough, I guess.”
Tracker asked, “Were you there when Fluid was still offered by Tracker?”
Matthew said, “Oh yeah. I did not know that’s what we called it at the time, but I’ve been here for 20 years. I can’t remember what year they switched over to SAFE, but I knew the labels were different. Once we switched over, I saw items being checked out to go to court. It was very easy to tell what it was. I was like… All right, this is exactly what I need. Before it was just a barcode and a number, we had no idea what was inside the envelope.”
Tracker asked, “Have you seen any other improvements with the upgrade?”
Matthew said, “Being able to tailor the display screens; to customize them to what the department wants and what makes it easier for me to see. As I’ve gone through to look at different items, it was a lot easier to go back and start looking things up. And, being able to customize the graphs on the dashboard to show the information that is useful to me. I’m sure I don’t know how to use the system to its fullest potential yet, but I’m learning. And I know, especially with all the support that’s in place, I’ll be able to get there with it.”
Tracker asked, “Have you done any disposition with Tracker’s SAFE software?”
Matthew said, “Not necessarily with the auto disposition function. We had so much evidence piling up. I think the prior clerk did maybe two big disposals a year. And, of course, released things back to the owners throughout the year. It was getting pretty crowded. We’ve got a couple of very small rooms that I have available to me. So, I knew quickly I had to start getting rid of things, but I needed to document it; especially with the firearms.
We didn’t have a lot of documentation in place. If we were destroying the firearms, we’d have to forfeit the case to the Kentucky State Police. So, I had to go back and try to find some different paperwork on prior disposables, but I couldn’t find the order or a lot of things I needed. So that’s one of the things that I learned quickly. I needed to start using the media aspect of the SAFE software to start scanning in stuff. So, I started scanning in the court orders and attaching them to that specific case. So it’s easy. Anybody can go into that case and pull up that media item and it says exactly what it is.”
Tracker asked, “Will you paint a picture of your warehouse now… if it’s changed at all since you got there?”
Matthew said, “We’ve got the main evidence areas that are just two small rooms. The office I’m in now is my office, but it also has some general found property evidence. Next to me, I have a more secure room. That’s where we keep our firearms and drugs. We don’t keep cash on hand – other than counterfeit. We keep our valuables – as far as jewelry and stuff – stored in there. I also have a biohazard closet in a separate building, but that’s locked down. I’m the only one that has access to it. And then we have an outside secure storage area for bicycles and lawn mowers and things like that. And a storage shed for flammables.
When I first came in, I knew we had all those, but I hadn’t even seen inside this room. So, when the clerk took me back there, I was just kind of surprised that there was no more room for any guns. The drugs were in totes on shelves. And when I looked through those, trying to find items, I realized there didn’t seem to be any organization, as far as the size or case number. Wherever there was an opening, it was put. So that was one of my first tasks. I spent my first couple of weekends on my own time getting everything organized; at least by case number and then separating everything out by sizes.
[Now] I’ve got the small drug evidence in these big cardboard banker boxes with the drawers. And then I’ve got the medium sized bags on one section of shelves and the large section on the other; getting all those things organized so I could actually make sense of it. The past clerk obviously knew where everything was. He was doing his job, but it just didn’t make sense to me. I had to get everything as organized as I could, just to keep track of it. So I knew how much room I had, what I needed to get rid of, and how many older cases I have.”
Tracker asked, “Did you find that you had more space after you did the reorganization?”
Matthew said, “Oh, yes Ma’am! Quite a bit more. I was able to move a lot of the smaller items that were occupying the shelves into our banker boxes. A lot of it, I was able to condense down and then even more after we did our first audit… the first or second week I was in here. My supervisor came in and we went and did an audit to get an idea of what I was looking at here. And we found out a lot of things that should have already been disposed, that weren’t. They were still on the shelves. We were able to dispose of those.
And then I started making a list and going through the older cases and clearing as much room as I could. So I’ve been able to do one good destruction and disposal so far. I’ve not been able to take any of our firearms to be forfeited though, because of COVID. KSP is not accepting them. But, I’m at least getting those processed and put in a separate area inside the room.”
Tracker asked, “When you switched to SAFE, did you get any pushback from any of the other officers about any of the new protocols?”
Matthew said, “I was on the street when that happened, but I remember when we were told we were changing software, it didn’t change a whole lot as far as patrol level, but I saw it more with our detectives. An officer typically checks an item in, and won’t check it out again until court. And that doesn’t happen very often. But the detectives need to review materials – film and media – and then they check them in and out a lot. It seemed like it was a lot easier when they went to SAFE. When I started [in this unit], the clerk was still using a manual log to check things in and out. After talking to one of Tracker’s customer support people, they had recommended to just go in and put the app on the phone(s).
I’m in the process of getting a tablet assigned to my division so that I can use that to check evidence in and out. So I just started using the app for letting them sign on there and it’s very easy to check it in and out that way. They appreciate it more; it keeps a better record than having books and books of paper sign-ins.”
Tracker asked, “Are you using that function where you can alert an officer to get an update on the status of cases/the evidence?”
Matthew said, “The officers don’t have access to the SAFE system. So what I do is I try to look at the current status for that week and then send out an email. Initially, I was trying to just do it all myself and then quickly realized that was not going to be effective. I’ve been kind of lucky… we had an officer on light duty when I first started and they helped me out a lot. I was able to delegate a lot. I can pull up these tasks and either send them out to the officer or take care of it myself. They are able to go through that list of cases that need to be reviewed, and we are able to get a lot of things set for disposition.”
Tracker asked, “Can you tell us about your new facility… meaning will everything be in one location?”
Matthew said, “Yeah, they’re intent on keeping everything within the facility. Luckily it’s not very far… maybe a quarter of a mile down main street here. The evidence section will be downstairs, and we’ll have a two story building. It will be pretty much the patrol section and evidence section downstairs. It’s going to be a much bigger facility than what I’ve got now – even with all my different little rooms – because they’re intent on having everything inside. Nothing in external storage. So all bikes, all flammables… they’re supposedly getting flammable lockers for me. I know the space I’m allotted, and I know what the layout is going to be, but I haven’t been told exactly what I’m going to be able to get as far as shelving; if I’m going to be able to get high density shelving or anything like that.”
Tracker changed gears and asked, “What is the check in process for you and the officers?”
Matthew said, “When I’m in the office, the officers just check things directly into me. But whenever I’m not here, or my door’s closed, we have a set of temporary lockers in the main part of our police department building. We have an office set aside for evidence processing where we keep all the supplies. They complete the paperwork and it has to be signed off on by a supervisor.
If there’s any money, the supervisor has to confirm the account with them. Then they bring them up here to our set of temporary lockers. They’re just hard metal lockers bolted into the wall. We have a lock inside each of them. So when they put something in it, they just put the lock on. And I’m the only one that has the keys to it.
We’ve got 17 small lockers that are about eight inches wide by 18 inches deep. We also have some dry lockers for biohazard items and large item lockers. After they put the item in, I’ve got a box beside my door, and they leave a copy of the evidence form that they fill out.
That way, I know what I’ve got waiting for me before I even open the lockers. Generally, when I come in, the first thing I’ll do is I’ll grab the list of paperwork, go through that and get them in case order. I need to see the evidence to see if I need to condense it. Like, if they put three items of drug paraphernalia, and that’s three different packages, I could condense it by putting all three packages into a smaller container box.
So after I get the paperwork and review it, I’ll check everything out of the locker and make a note on which temporary locker I took it out of. I start the chain of custody there and then bring it into my office. I’ve got a small little table here – not a whole lot of room – but that’s where we package everything up, put it into our storage envelopes. We’ve got the three different sizes of envelopes and almost everything goes into most of them. I’ll enter it into the system myself, print out the labels, and then put it in storage.”
Tracker asked, “If someone asked why you would recommend Tracker’s SAFE software, what would you say?”
Matthew said, “The customer service is the biggest thing. It’s been amazing. It’s helped me so much, just getting a handle on things. And the online training and the webinars that have been going on since Covid started.
I took an IAPE online course, right when I got this assignment. I was just watching the videos and kind of making notes, but being able to interact, talk with, and message back and forth with other people doing the same job – who obviously have more experience than I have – has been great. I mean, it’s been awesome to see how other agencies are run and what other facilities have. That kind of outreach really shows the devotion to this system – and to the customer – and really tries to make it as user friendly. And that’s just been awesome for me.”
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