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Evidence Management Webinar E15: How to Catch a Thief, Evidence Room Edition – Part 1

March 17, 2021

When the outset of Covid-19 began, we wanted to do something different for today’s evidence management environment by offering webinars, FREE evidence management training, and a Facebook Community Forum for evidence custodians nationwide. This community forum – which currently has over 550 members – is for the purpose of discussing anything in the realm of evidence management. Topics include, but are not limited to: Standards, Best Practices, Technology, Evidence Management Challenges, and Custodial Success Stories.

Below, are some excerpts from the webinar called, How To Catch a Thief, Evidence Room Edition.  In this webinar, Beth Bennett shared her experience with a detective who was stealing drugs and jewelry from her property room. How did he do it? What were the red flags? What were the lessons learned? And, what steps were taken to minimize theft-risk moving forward? 

The host was BenTownsend, the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products SAFE software. His guest, Beth, worked with the Raytown Police Department for many years and became a Tracker Team Member about 2 years ago. 

Ben said, “We asked Beth to talk about how she found out that someone was stealing drugs and jewelry when she worked as an evidence custodian with Raytown PD. Beth, welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself.”

Beth said, “I am from Kansas City, Missouri; born and raised. I went to the University of Missouri – Columbia; graduated in 2005 with a BA in psychology and biology. Right now, I work at home with my kiddos – 5, 7, 9, and 11 – and my husband. He’s a State Farm agent here locally. 

This homeschooling/pandemic thing has been quite interesting for us to try to work full-time, run a small business, and homeschool the kiddos. It’s been rewarding and very challenging. 

I always knew I wanted to do something within the criminal justice system. Even as a little girl, I wanted to be a homicide detective. But as I grew up – and realized that I am scared of the dark and scared of guns – I realized that I needed to find something a little different, because I would never be able to be a police officer. Then, I became interested in crime scenes and also evidence. So, that’s kinda how I got started. 

I worked for the county and was friends with somebody that was friends with the sheriff at the time. He was kind enough to give me an internship while I was in college. Then he hired me on as an intern until I was able to find a full-time job. 

I started with Raytown back in July of 2006. I ran their property and supply rooms and was in charge of all the evidence, plus all the supplies. So: office supplies, evidence supplies, the uniforms, the equipment, duty gear, all of that, for her 13 years. 

They didn’t have a barcoding system at Raytown before me. So, I had done all the research back in 2007/2008, and we chose to go with Tracker. That’s when I met Ben and [became familiar with] Tracker Products. We’ve always had a good relationship. 

Later, when Raytown was going through the process of upgrading to Tracker’s SAFE software, that’s when Ben and I discussed a job change. I came over to Tracker in October of 2018; I couldn’t love it more. I get work from home, which I love. I’m loving what I get to do as a support and implementation agent. So that’s a little bit of a backstory for me. 

As Ben said, what we’ll talk about today is when I encountered somebody that had stolen drugs and jewelry from my property room; showing you all that I learned from that.”

Ben laughed and said, “I’m interested in the psychology behind a little girl wanting to be a homicide detective. I mean, I did not know that. That’s the first time you’ve ever shared that. You explained a lot of stuff here today, so I think you and I have made a lot of progress on understanding each other now. So… continue your story.”

Beth said, “This all happened back in 2013. I’d been running the property room there at Raytown for about six and a half years, when I suspected a friend/ coworker was stealing drugs and jewelry, from the property room. That was a really hard thing to face. 

How it all happened was… I had returned from maternity leave and luckily they let the girl that filled in for me stay on and work with me for a little bit.

I came back in January and almost immediately this detective started checking out an above-average amount of items. At first, I just didn’t really notice anything – this whole process went over one or two months, so it’s really not a huge timeframe – but, he was just coming in pretty often and checking things out. I would say that during this time he was kind of grooming me. 

Anybody that works in the property room knows our biggest struggle is disposals; getting officers and detectives to fill out disposal. So, that’s something that he was so kind in helping me with. He was not only filling out his disposals, but he was filling out other people’s disposals.

RELATED: THE POWER OF AUTOMATING EVIDENCE DISPOSITION

That won me over. I thought that he was just being so nice. He was also doing things like bringing in food…. And I know it sounds so tacky now, but I didn’t see it at the time. My coworker kept saying, It’s almost like he was grooming you. He was manipulating you. And now looking back, I can see that, but in the moment I just thought he was being a nice friend. 

So, what he was doing is he was checking out pills and also jewelry. With the jewelry, he was saying that he was going to try to find the owners. He was taking pictures, which I just thought was so kind. 

Also, we ran a Citizens Academy there. He was saying he was taking pictures for the presentation. So again, I was believing everything he said. I would say that the red flags kind of started with the pills. Even though he was checking out jewelry, that completely went over my head. It wasn’t until the investigation had already started that I was able to look back and realize, Oh… that whole time he was stealing the jewelry too. But, it was the pills that were kind of a red flag for me.

I’d recently had a friend that was struggling with a pill addiction. So, I kind of had that in the back of my mind. But then also, as property people, we are trained that pills are something to look for. Not only that… when you have somebody that is checking items out at a frequency that isn’t normal, that is a red flag. 

All these little things started happening and my instincts were telling me that something probably wasn’t right. I would say that the first thing – where I’m like, Okay, something really weird has happened in this – was when he had checked items out. For me, whenever I check items out, I always count the number of bags. I also scanned everything, but I specifically always count the bags. 

And, whenever he brought them back to me, there was an extra bag. Which I thought was very odd. So, I immediately started looking at the bags. He was standing over me and could tell something was going on, I think. But I noticed that two of the bags looked identical to each other; said the same thing, had the same item number. He immediately grabbed all the bags and said, Oh, you know, I was packaging another case. I got these mixed up, and left my office with the items. When he came back, of course, miraculously, there’s only the correct number of bags that there should be.

So, I thought, I need to start documenting this. As I said, the frequency of his checkouts was a little bit odd, so that led me to be a little bit suspicious. I began to kind of bounce my ideas off my coworker to get her thoughts. And honestly, she didn’t like the guy. Lately, his mood had kind of changed. He’d done some weird things to some of the officers that he used to be friends with. 

Looking back now, it kind of all makes sense, but at the time he was being so nice to me and doing all these nice things for me that I didn’t really see that. But, she saw right through it.

She said You need to tell somebody. At the time, though, I was just too scared to tell anybody. I didn’t feel like I had enough information. 

Another thing that set off a red flag is… he started to check out items that were set for destruction, which I thought was really odd. He checked out a couple items that he said were for court, but they were already set to be destroyed. So, I immediately contacted the prosecutor and the case officer – because he was not the case officer for that case – both told me they had not requested that evidence for court. Still, at this time, I hadn’t told anybody, besides, my coworker, about my suspicions. And, even with the prosecutor, I didn’t really say anything. I guess out of fear of the backlash that I might get if my suspicions were wrong.

The last straw was, he started asking to check out gift cards that were set for destruction. And I just thought that was so odd. He used the excuse that he wanted to take pictures, but I said, There’s no reason for that. At that point, I said, I’m not pulling anything out of destruction because we put everything into different piles. It’s a lot of work to get the stuff pulled out when it’s set for destruction. So, I just said, no, and he easily gave it up. He was like, Oh, okay. I guess I don’t need it then. 

At that point, I was still speaking with my coworker, but I was very scared of being ostracized by my other coworkers. With him being a detective – he’d been there for 10 years – I just feared for what was going to come next. I knew if I said something about drugs I.A. was going to start investigating immediately, and it would prove whether my suspicions were correct or not. 

And, as I said, he was my friend, so I was scared to make him mad. But, the coworker had said, If you don’t speak up, and something continues to happen, it’s going to be on you. And so finally she was able to convince me and I went to my supervisor. I’d been documenting everything, and I contacted my Lieutenant.

RELATED: ADAPTING TO NEW EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT PROTOCOLS

He came to my office and I spoke with him. Immediately, he went to the Captain and the Chief and told them. Then they approached the detective. From what I understand, he started divulging some of the information. They kind of wanted him to stop so they could get attorneys involved. They had requested a drug test, which he denied. He quit right there on the spot; and left the department. 

I was interviewed by I.A. and there were lots of things that they were starting to go through. But he stopped cooperating. So, since he had quit and he stopped cooperating, the department decided to contact the highway patrol. And at that time – I think it was within a day or so – the highway patrol came in and took over all the investigations. So, they did all the interviews. Again, I don’t believe that he was cooperating with them either. 

So, they went through all the same checks that I.A. had done; came in and checked out all the evidence, looked at the things. He had forged other people’s names on bags. All sorts of stuff that they had found out. 

The detective’s desk was full of pills and jewelry. He had been keeping over-the-counter pills and knock-off jewelry in his desk. So, as he was checking these things out, he was replacing them [with fake evidence], right there in the detective unit, where there were eight cubicles. Everybody else was in there, but nobody had any idea that’s what he was doing. 

The big thing is, he knew the computer system. He knew exactly what to look for. He was searching for items that were in containers. He knew exactly what to pull because he’d been searching the computer system, looking for what he wanted. So, the jewelry… if it was a watch within a watch box, or pills within the pill bottle… obviously what he was searching for was Oxy and hydrocodone. Those were the two big pills that he was stealing. 

I mean, he was getting away with opening the bags and resealing them because he had a legitimate reason to unpackage them. So, the fact that he had opened them up and resealed was not a red flag to me. 

However, what he was also doing – for the items that he shouldn’t have been opening…the one case that I mentioned earlier, he was replicating the bags and forging the other officer’s signature on them. That way, it looked exactly like the original bag. And then he was throwing away the originals.

We found out that his pill supply had been taken away. I believe that his wife had found out about this and had gotten rid of all of his pills. So, he was desperate. And he’d been stealing the jewelry also, which, at the time, went completely over my head. It wasn’t until we started doing this investigation that I realized, Oh, he was stealing jewelry too. The whole time. 

I just thought it was the drugs. I mean, I knew he was checking out the jewelry, but it wasn’t until the investigations started, that I realized that he was taking that also. The sad thing is that his addiction had come from a workplace injury. He’d been injured on the job years before, and since then he had been addicted to these drugs.

As I said, he only stole drugs and jewelry that were not packaged or documented well. He knew exactly what he was going for and he was really good at what he did. 

RELATED: A BUMBLING COP OR A FLAWED EVIDENCE TRACKING SYSTEM?

So, as far as the charges and sentences… unfortunately with the jewelry – since we didn’t have the jewelry as documented as well as we probably should have – we weren’t able to charge felony for the jewelry; because we couldn’t prove the value of it. So, that’s something that we learned. 

But, he was charged with C Felonies for the drugs. In the end, he got a Suspended Execution of Sentence. So, it’s still on his record, but the odd thing is … I don’t know that his record was ever updated with those charges because we’ve recently learned that the ATF is after him. He’s been selling firearms online. So, he was able to purchase all these firearms and has now been selling them online because the background checks didn’t show that he was charged with a felony. 

So, that’s really sad. He obviously needs help, but he never spent any time in prison. It was just parole. So, that’s the story. Ben, do you have any questions [from the attendees] about the story? If not, I can circle back to some of the stuff I learned.”

Ben said, “I haven’t had any questions come in yet. If anybody does have questions, go ahead and submit them, and then I’ll come back at the end to get them answered.”

Beth said, “Okay. I want to have everybody learn from our mistakes. The red flag was the fact that he was checking out lots of pill evidence. Also, checking out items at an above-average rate. In my training, I’ve learned that if one officer is checking out items more frequently than all other officers combined like that’s a red flag. And that’s one of the things that I had seen. 

Also, I was able to determine that he was trying to check in more evidence than he checked out.  I was able to figure that out because I had been counting the bags. So, that’s something that I would strongly recommend. And, checking items out from destruction. I mean, that’s just not normal. Once it’s set for destruction, there should be no reason that you need to check that out. And then, also checking out items for court that aren’t your cases. 

Plus, as I said, his mood changes. Looking back, we can see all those now, but at the time I didn’t. I didn’t really notice the grooming that he did. At the time I just thought he was really being nice. Now, I can look back and see that he was manipulating me. 

But, the fact that he was completing all the disposals… I mean, he knew exactly what my weak spot was. That is something that every officer and detective that I know of absolutely hates doing. And that’s the hardest part, with property people, to get those disposals in.

He had just made my day by helping me with those. And, bringing in snacks, food treats… I feel silly now that I was manipulated that way. I just thought he was my friend, but now I can understand. And, and the fact that he had me convinced that he was going above and beyond for the citizens; trying to get this jewelry returned. Also, taking pictures for this Citizens Academy that I thought he was working so hard on, but he was actually just stealing.” 

In Part 2, Beth will talk about what she learned, the changes they made to their evidence management practices, and address any questions that came in from the webinar attendees. 

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.