Evidence Room Inventories Made Easy – Part 1
June 2, 2021
In this webinar, Ben Townsend – the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products – was joined by Krista Morton from the Des Moines Police Department for a discussion about inventory best practices.
Ben began the discussion by saying, “We’ve talked a little bit about inventories in previous webinars, but today we’re going to really dig into it with how Des Moines is doing them. I’m going to show you a lot of statistical information that I garnered from the Des Moines data.
As I’ve said before, I love statistical data. I love looking at things like this and trying to figure out how things are working. So, I’m going to show you all sorts of statistics and we’re going to break down what Des Moines is doing when it comes to evidence.
Krista, I want to say thank you ahead of time for being willing to open yourself up to critique about what you’re doing in the evidence management world. It’s not my intent to look at your process and tell you what you’re doing wrong. People like to know what other people are doing and what can be done to be better.
Krista said, “No problem. Anything to make it run smoothly.”
Ben said, “Okay… let’s start out real quickly. I don’t want to just assume that everybody knows what an inventory is, because sometimes there’s a misunderstanding between an inventory, an audit, and a random inventory. So, I want to break these things down and define what each one of those are.
An inventory is when you basically check every item in a particular location, and get to a point where you check every item in every location to find out if it is where it’s supposed to be. Is it present in the room?
An audit is very different from an inventory. An audit is when you’re checking whether or not you are complying with policies and procedures. A small part of an audit would be going around and looking at some pieces of evidence, but generally, an audit is not going to be an entire inventory. And, the audit may be checking to make sure you’re doing the inventories as often as you’re supposed to be.
The last one is a random inventory. That’s where we spot-check a subcomponent of all of the evidence. So, that may look like… the boss comes in one day and says, Hey, I need you to randomly generate a list of a hundred pieces of evidence. And I’m going to go into the room and check and see if those 100 pieces of evidence are where they’re supposed to be.
So, certainly, a random inventory is much less complex than a full blown inventory. I’m a firm believer that all three of those procedures should be taking place fairly consistently. And, we’ll get into some of the policies and procedures behind that.
First, I want to establish some guidelines…
I got this (image above) from Shawn Henderson at the Evidence Management Institute; who is also somebody that I have on our webinars very often. The best practice for inventory is that all evidence is inventoried at least one time a year.
Some people may choke at that idea and say, I can’t do that, or it’s not possible. I’m just saying the gold standard is that every piece of evidence is inventoried one time a year. If you cannot inventory every piece of evidence, the next level down would be to inventory all guns, drugs, money, and biological evidence at least one time a year. And everything else, less frequently.
Shawn has some additional guidelines that go along with that. For example, if there’s a change in leadership; that might require a redo of your inventories, audits, and random inventories.
Bottom line, you want to be in a position to be able to do a full blown inventory of your evidence very quickly. Today we’re going to talk about how you go about getting that done, so that if something like a leadership change does come up, you’re ready to go.
Maybe you’re in a position where you’ve never done an inventory or an audit, and this will be your foray into that. These things are absolutely critical. My personal opinion is that doing an inventory is the second most important thing that you can manage using technology in your evidence room. The first would be auto disposition; getting your disposition process moving very effectively.
So Krista, how long have you been involved in the evidence room at Des Moines?”
Krista said, “25 years.”
Ben said, “If I were to ask you to go back to when you didn’t have technology – when it was more paper-based – what are some of the key differences between having technology and not having technology. Did you do inventories without having any level of technology in place?”
Krista said, “We couldn’t because we had to generate lists through technology. We had a big evidence log book and then we had paper. We did not do any type of inventory until we finally got our first technical logging system – where we put it in the computer to generate a list. I was already with the department close to 10 years before we even did an inventory.”
Bensaid, “So, your first inventory was done by walking around with a piece of paper, checking everything off. Would you even have an idea of how long it would take to inventory the entire evidence room at that point in time?”
Krista said, “We just did locations. I would print out a list of everything in that location, take that piece of paper, looked for individual items, and checked them off. We had to research the ones that shouldn’t have been there, or the ones that we didn’t find. So, it was time consuming.”
Ben said, “Let’s fast forward to now. If you’re watching this webinar and you do not have an evidence management system, or you’re not doing inventories, that’s ‘double not good.’ So Krista, when you moved into the world of technology, what does an inventory look like now? How big of a difference is it today from what it used to be?”
Krista said, “Oh, it’s much easier. It’s quicker. Scanning everything and having the computer find the discrepancies, is huge. It’s night and day. And, it’s more accurate because [doing them the old way] there were errors, and you can misread the numbers. The accuracy of technology and the speed now… before, we would always have two people doing inventories. One was reading, one was finding. Now, one person can do it. So, you’re saving manpower by only needing one person. It’s much better; I would not want to go back to the old way.”
Ben said, “Krista and I had a conversation earlier today, where I ran through some of the stats that I had and got a little bit of information from her. There are five main categories of evidence within the Des Moines PD.
Next to each one of them, I listed how often they inventory each one of those. For example, the first one is drugs. As I mentioned earlier, guns, drugs, and money are toward the top of the list. Des Moines will inventory their drugs two times per year. And, that’s how often they do dispositions too.
The money is done once per year… roughly, that one’s a little bit more flexible. Then your other three areas are: Main, Basement and Upper… basically, every year, you try to knock out one of those key sections. Ultimately, what that means is that at the end of three years, you’ve inventoried Main one time, Basement one time, and Upper one time.
In three years you also will have done six inventories on drugs and you will have done three inventories on money. Do you have a written policy; anything that states: This is how we’re going to go about doing what we’re doing, or are you just operating off of best practices?”
Krista said, “No, we do not at this time. I believe we probably will have one coming. But no, it’s just something I want to have done. If we had the manpower to do it more often, we’d probably inventory more. But, to be able to maintain our work and inventory; that’s why we do it the way we do it.”
Ben said, “There are people out there that don’t have a policy, and the best way to create a policy is to copy what somebody else has done. For example, The Evidence Management Institute’s Policy, Procedure and Documentation page is an excellent place to start.
Okay. Let’s dig into some statistics. I love digging into this stuff. This is where we really get down into the nuts and bolts of what their inventories produce, and what their numbers look like. I’ll go through some of these things, and Krista, I’ll probably ask you some questions about them, but for now, I’m just going to read through them.
The Des Moines PD evidence: it’s important to know they have two and a half full-time staff running their evidence operation. It’s important to keep in mind the context; it’s not like they have a dozen people in the evidence room. They’ve got two and a half full-time people.
I ran these stats this morning. They have 39,704 checked-in items in the evidence room. In the last 365 days, they’ve added 18,343 items. Of those 18,343 items, 13,381 of them are still checked in. This means roughly 5,000 of the items brought in in the last year have already been disposed of.
The good news is, they have disposed of 20,265 items in the last 365 days; which ultimately means they are disposing of more evidence than what is coming in during the year. That is one of the most critical factors for a healthy evidence organization – getting rid of more than what you’re bringing in. It might only be to a slight degree, but you are opening space up.
They are not in that situation where they’re running out of room in their buildings because of unnecessary evidence. So, good job, Krista. I’m glad to see that, that is an indicator of a healthy organization.
Now, breaking that down from there. That means every working day of the year – there are 261 working days a year on average – they’re bringing in 70 items and they’re getting rid of 77. Keep in mind 70 items coming in per day… you’ve got two and a half staff to deal with intake and all the other things that go into it.
Now, we’re going to dig into some numbers for the inventory section. Krista and her group did 372 inventories last year. Two lines below that, I indicate they have 939 distinct locations in their evidence room that have at least one piece of evidence. If you take their 39,700 items and divide them by 939 storage locations, on average they have 42 pieces of evidence in every storage location.
Of those 939 storage locations, they have inventoried roughly 372 of those in the last year. I was able to pull all of this out of the Tracker Products database. Krista, did any of these numbers shock you? How did you feel when you looked at those numbers?”
Krista said, “I guess I did not realize that we’ve been getting rid of that much stuff. I just follow that little graph on Tracker and I see the little peaks and stuff like that. But, as far as numbers, I had no idea.”
Ben said, Okay… they did 372 inventories. Those were in 939 storage locations that have roughly 42 pieces of evidence per storage location. That equated to roughly 19,820 items that were inventoried in the last 365 days. My quick math tells me that means about half of their evidence has been inventoried in the last year.
I did run one more statistic. If every location has roughly 42 items, and it took roughly five minutes to inventory every one of those locations… Krista, you’ve done a lot of inventories. If there were 42 items in a location – and you were using Tracker’s mobile app – do you think you could pull off an inventory in five minutes?”
Krista said, “Yeah.”
Ben said, “So, if that number is roughly correct, and Krista was using that mobile app – and she didn’t stop or slow down to any degree for eight hours a day – it would take almost 10 working days to inventory the entire evidence room.
The reason I mention that is because Krista may think, My goodness, our evidence room is large. We’ve got almost 40,000 items. How would I ever get through it? Could you imagine clocking away at this for 10 straight days and doing the entire inventory with only one person?”
Krista said, “No, because it’s not that simple. I mean, you’ve got to do the discrepancies. Once you get the discrepancies, you’ve got to figure out the issues with it. It takes some time to investigate it. Doing a straight inventory? Yes. But, the reason we’re doing inventories is to catch our mistakes. So, we have to fix our mistakes.”
Ben said, “That’s true. Every one of those discrepancies is going to add time to the equation. In Des Moines… a lot of their legacy evidence isn’t quite as well organized and packaged as the new stuff coming in. So, they’ve got the constant process of cleaning up that really old stuff. But, the analytics still give you an idea of how the numbers break out.”
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 webinars here. Or – to get in on the discussion, with nearly 600 other evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.
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