Evidence Management Success: Rumford Police Department Part 2
October 29, 2020
In Part 2 of this interview with Tony Milligan – Chief of Police for Rumford PD, and Dan Garbarini – a captain with Rumford PD, in charge of major crimes and evidence management – we discussed why they are committed to improving their evidence management practices, and how they are doing it.
Tony said, “I came here in January, and one of the first things on my list of things to do was to transform our evidence system back into a Tracker Products environment. So, we made that happen, maybe a month ago?”
David Marks, a sales representative from Tracker, responded, “You went live a month ago. From the time you reached out to us – and after doing a software demo for Dan and your team… you guys really turned the key to purchase within two weeks of that whole process; which is a lot faster than our typical sale. But, as Tony mentioned, he had seen the system before, so he had an edge, because he knew what it was capable of. It was just making his team see that as well.”
Tony stressed the importance of an infallible chain of custody, saying “Officers have training to write better reports and to not violate constitutional rights. Over time, and with training and experience, you get really good. So what’s left for the defense attorneys to attack, but your evidence; your chain of custody? And if you don’t have an ironclad system – that can’t be easily manipulated – then I think you’re in trouble.
You are almost – I don’t want to say… ‘criminal’ – but you almost have to justify why you don’t have SAFE. I don’t want to sound like a poster-child; I’m speaking from the heart. Unless you’ve experienced SAFE, or have been on the fuzzy end of a suppression hearing… because something with your evidence was screwed up, or you couldn’t account for it, or there was a gap…
Until you’ve experienced the benefits of using a product like SAFE, you don’t know what you don’t know… you know? And it’s going to bite you in the ass someday. Is it the cheapest product out there in the market? Nope. But you know what? I’m here to tell you, you get what you pay for. We have one license. Would I like to have two? Yeah. I think it would make our life a little bit easier if we had two, but we’re making it work with one. And it’s day and night for us.
There’s really no comparison. Rumford PD has never had an evidence management system that we could be proud of… like we have now. We’ve kind of joked around about… Maybe we gotta to start holding tours for other departments with the public to come see a wonderful new evidence management system. Cause we’re all giddy over it.
It sounds silly, but it’s, it’s the truth. We’ve gone from living in a cave to living on Madison Avenue. It’s just… it’s crazy. It’s really crazy. And if [other] departments don’t take a serious look at this… I don’t know what’s wrong with them. They’re missing out.
And you can’t do it justice on a website. You can’t look on a website and say, Oh yeah… Tracker Products’ SAFE… that’s a good thing. You’ve got to get your hands on it. My guess is, if departments – whether they be chiefs or evidence managers – if they get their hands dirty with SAFE for a 30 day period, I would dare say, the percentage has got to be low, that they don’t turn around and, and sign up for SAFE. It would blow my mind if they don’t become a customer. Because how do you walk away from this?
I don’t know a product out there that’s any better. I looked at different ones and they don’t hold a candle to what you guys offer for the price that you offer it.”
A representative from Tracker asked, “Tony, you said the first couple of weeks seemed a little intimidating and then it all clicked into place. So, are you saying that after two weeks it became relatively intuitive for you to work with the Tracker system?”
Tony said, “We did some one-on-one training and then we did some group training. And we were anticipating maybe having two or three sessions with everybody, but we did it in one session! I did some live demonstrations and gave them some evidence and had them enter it. The mistakes were minimal. I think everyone was ready for it. It was a pretty easy transition.
We’re early in the transition stage now. And, it’s not like we have evidence coming in the door every day. For purposes of implementing; that part seemed to be pretty smooth. We spent three or four eight-hour days… I called some people in and paid them overtime, dedicated to taking everything out of the evidence room – every piece of evidence – and entered it manually onto a spreadsheet form, so that we could send that data to you for import. That’s how committed we were to making this work.
That’s why, Dave, we were pushing very hard to make this thing go quickly. Basically, I took that hornet’s nest and shook the shit out of it.”
Dave said, “I’m just hoping you took before and after pictures.”
Tony laughed and said, “We had quite an assembly line. We had conference tables stacked end to end, and we had different workstations set up. So, a piece of evidence would come down the assembly line, one station was entering case information. The next station was entering a person’s information. The next station was entering item information. It was pretty impressive. I gotta tell ya.”
A representative of Tracker asked, “Any pushback from the officers?”
Tony said, “There was a lot of pushback. Like, why the hell are we doing this? But, once we got through that, and then I showed them how SAFE worked… all the sweat and agony that went with those three or four days of manually entering stuff into the form that I created, it started to make sense. Because now, when they’re putting stuff into SAFE they realized, Oh, you can’t have drugs, drug paraphernalia, and currency all in one envelope. The light bulbs start going off. It’s just a different mindset, you know, on how to treat evidence and how to keep it separate and why that’s important. And SAFE really helps you do that.
The old system would allow you to do whatever you wanted to do. SAFE, thank God, has discipline built into it.”
Dan, the captain at Rumford PD, added, “I was certainly resistant. Not because I didn’t like it, but I was resistant because I didn’t understand his methodology. I equated it to tree-length firewood… you cut it, you split it and you’re stacking it and then you dry it and then you’re going to move it somewhere else. And that’s what I saw going on in this process was… Are you kidding me? I’m gonna have to touch this evidence again and again? Well, that was very shortsighted. The end result was… we weren’t going to have to keep touching this evidence beyond that [initial sorting].
Once we got it logged in, and all the entries were done, it was going to be in its spot for a period of time. At some point it’s going to be purged, and that wasn’t happening before. I think it’s an education piece, more than anything. At least, from my perspective, I did take a leap of faith. So you’ve gotta suck it up to get from here to there. But once you get there, it’s worth it.”
Tony added, “Dan’s been away on vacation, so he’s been away from SAFE for a couple of weeks. We had four pieces of evidence to put in today. So, I sat with him and just let him do it from start to finish. We got out back, to the evidence room, to move it from what we call the Temporary Evidence Processing, into a storage location. We put the labels on and he’s like, Okay, so how do we move it?
I said, just take your scanner and point and shoot. And I said, Okay, now go and shoot the storage location you want to put it in. He said, Which one do you want? I said, I don’t care; put it anywhere. He had a big smile on his face and was like: That’s it… that’s all you have to do? I joked and I said, I’ve got to go to Staples and get one of those ‘That Was Easy’ buttons.
I mean, to see a 23 year veteran, get excited over a mundane task for evidence management… that should tell you something right there. That’s pretty special.”
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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