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Evidence Management Success: Western Kentucky University Police Department

September 24, 2020

This week we interviewed Ryan Petty, a Sergeant serving the Investigations unit at Western Kentucky University Police Department. The intention of this interview was to talk about the challenges that he has faced working in the evidence unit and the unique solutions that he brought to the table. We asked Ryan to tell us a little bit about his background and his time with the WKU PD. 

He said, “There are twenty-five officers at WKU PD. I’ve been in this position with the investigations unit for about two and a half years – I’ve been at Western overall for seven years – and in law enforcement for 17 years.

When I started here at Western, I was just a patrol officer and then was promoted to Sergeant over the second afternoon patrol shift. And then, this opportunity came up and I [became] the Sergeant over the Investigations Unit; that position handles evidence retention. I’m also over the Crime Scene Unit. So, I had already been exposed to – and was involved in – the collection of evidence out in the field. But,  when I moved to this new position, I took over having – and keeping track of – our evidence in storage.”

Tracker said, “Can you tell us about your current evidence management process; from evidence intake all the way through disposition?”

Ryan said, “I’m involved from the very beginning to the very end. When a street officer collects evidence in the field, he puts it in one of our temporary lockers. My role starts at that point. I will remove it from the temporary locker, and give it a permanent assignment in our long term storage vault. If it needs to go to the lab, I transport it to the lab. If it needs to go to court, I transport it to court. Of course, we have the auto disposition [feature] with Tracker. So, when it’s ready to be destroyed, I’m the one that destroys it as well.”

Tracker asked, “How long have you been using Tracker?”

Ryan said, “Right around two and a half years. One of my first duties was to find a new way of doing what we were doing. So, I started investigating options and I think Kristee [from Tracker] was one of the first people I talked to and we got signed up shortly after that.”

Tracker said, “So, you’re on our current product SAFE.  Talk a little bit more about that. When you were investigating different options, what made SAFE stand out from some of the other products that you were looking into?”

Ryan said, “There were two of us that were looking at the time. It was myself and Brian Adams who was assisting me here. He’s another officer. I know that after we got through with the presentation with Kristee – and compared it to the others that we looked at – we decided it was the best; and the way we needed to go. It was very obvious that SAFE was geared specifically to what we needed to do. It wasn’t like a side-piece of a larger program or something like that. It was specific to the goals that we were trying to accomplish.”

RELATED: FROM AN ARCHAIC EVIDENCE TRACKING SYSTEM, TO STATE-OF-THE-ART

Tracker said, “You were using an evidence module on an RMS prior to that, and pen and paper prior to that. Can you compare and contrast the evolution of your evidence management process using those different options?”

Ryan said, “Initially it was just a pen to paper process here. When someone put something in a temporary locker, they were handwriting on a printed word document. At some point – prior to my involvement – they got an RMS program that had the capability to barcode, but that was never actually fully implemented. 

The only person that was involved in that, was the person that was in my role. The officers never saw any input into that RMS, they were still handwriting a paper document, and then the evidence clerk was entering it into an RMS. It was a terrible process. It was inefficient and it had several loopholes, so it was easy to make mistakes and for things to get misplaced. Having SAFE tied up all those loopholes.”

Tracker said, “We talked a little bit about some of the shortcomings and challenges of the older ways. Will you contrast with how you utilize SAFE, and how that makes a difference?”

Ryan said, “The biggest issue that I had when I took over was… when I did an audit of the vault – with an officer from another agency that assisted me – we were finding misdemeanor drug cases from the nineties. So immediately I was like, Why is this room overflowing with evidence that’s so old? 

That was a big part of what sold me on SAFE. The auto disposition has saved me a lot of headaches that my predecessor had to endure. I get that junk out of there as soon as I can. The officers are on top of it, they get the [automated] emails. We started a new program and everything was changing. So, it was easy for me to communicate, to the officers, the importance of keeping up with the tasks and the auto dispositions. 

Whereas I’ve talked to some other agencies, that have had a hard time convincing their officers to keep up with it. But, I think since we were starting over fresh and the whole system was new, it was easy for me to ingrain, in their process, how important the auto disposition was. So that’s been a lifesaver for me; getting the old stuff out. Nothing sitting in there marinating that needs to be moving on.”

RELATED: EFFECTIVE EVIDENCE TRACKING SYSTEMS

Tracker said, “You talked about how there wasn’t much pushback from the officers, as far as auto dispo. But what about the implementation of SAFE as a whole, was there any resistance?”

Ryan said, “It was overall a smooth transition, and I know there are some guys here that would probably give me a dirty look if they heard me say that. Some of the older guys – that had been in law enforcement a little bit longer – were a little bit resistant to start using a new technology. That’s just the way law enforcement is now… constantly there’s some kind of new technology that either is making our job easier or safer… like a CYA kind of technology. So, there was a little bit of resistance from some of the older guys, but overall most everybody was just happy to have a new system. 

That was it. It was easy to see that it was going to make their life easier. I can’t convey how complicated and difficult the paper form [process] was. Tracker was well accepted.”

Tracker said, “Can you tell us about the help that you’ve received from Tracker; from implementation all through and support issues you may have had since you’ve had SAFE.”

Ryan said, “I can’t say enough about the customer service. We’ve had experiences with other products, like body cams or… whatever the latest and greatest thing is. The salesmen will come in, we’ll get the product, and then they’re onto the next one. We’re kind of left with some questions and that absolutely did not happen with Tracker. 

Kristee’s been great. She’s constantly checking in. And when we have an issue – especially when we were setting up and transitioning onto the SAFE platform – Rob, in tech-support was just amazing. Anytime I call him – if I have forgotten something or can’t figure out what I’ve done wrong – I’ll call him. He’s always helpful. Before we hang up, he always looks and makes sure to refer to something new that will help me do my job better. He’s always making sure that we’re doing it the best way possible. That follow-up speaks volumes to me. I don’t feel like I’m out twisting in the wind on my own.”

Tracker said, “That’s something that we stress as part of our company culture. We don’t want to just sell you software and then walk away. We want to continuously improve. Do you have any suggestions and/or constructive feedback that you could offer for us?”

Ryan said, “I’ve been really pleased. I was excited about the app. I think maybe there might be some more functions coming to the app that I’m looking forward to. So, I’m just anxious to get that up and going… being able to access everything from my phone.”

RELATED: ADAPTING TO NEW EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT PROTOCOLS

Tracker said, “Is there anything that we didn’t hit on that you wanted to share; above and beyond what we already discussed?

Ryan said, “Some of the big problems that SAFE solved for us was the accountability. Also, it really helped us get in line with the accreditation standards. And, we got accredited. The Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police did our first audit – that I’ve been involved in –  in the fall of 2019. I really loved when the auditor came in… I gave him access to the vault and he went and pulled a piece of evidence and brought it to me. I was supposed to be able to tell him where it came from. And man, I just looked that right up. I said, ‘That was on shelf…’ 

It made my job a lot easier and would not have been able to be done if we hadn’t switched to SAFE from that paper program that we were using. I mean, it made me look good overall. I mean the product makes me look good to my Chief, so I appreciate that.”

Tracker said, “You mentioned that your unit may be moving?”

Ryan said, “You can stop by and see the construction! I’m very excited. Our property room is going to double in size. So, I’m excited about the move, but right now we’re kind of living out of boxes.”  

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.

Tracker Product’s SAFE evidence tracking software is more than just barcodes and inventory control, it’s end-to-end chain of custody software for physical and digital evidence, resolving each of the critical issues facing evidence management today. To learn more about Tracker Products, CLICK HERE.

Or, if you’re interested in Evidence Management Training from our partner company, VISIT EMI HERE.