Forest Park Police Department Virtual Evidence Room Tour – Part 1
January 5, 2022
David Marks from Tracker Products hosted our webinar live from the evidence room of the Forest Park Police Department . Forest Park PD Operations Commander Adam Pape and Officer Phil Crowley showed off their recently upgraded evidence room and discussed the upgrade process, including the challenges, lessons learned, and ultimate success of the initiative. Topics include:
- What were evidence room operations like before the upgrade?
- Challenges that were encountered throughout the process
- Tour showing changes to evidence room layout and storage
- How new tracking software impacted operations (includes a live demo)
- Lessons learned and advice for others considering evidence room improvements
*** David Marks (right), Lieutenant Pape (left), and Officer Crowley (center).
David began the webinar by saying, “Good afternoon, everyone. My name is David Marks. I am the Director of Business Development for Tracker Products. Today we are streaming live from the Forest Park Police Department in Cincinnati, Ohio. We do these webinars every month and we are extremely excited that my guests are allowing us semi-unrestricted access into their property and evidence room today.
We want to dive right into it, but first, there are some general things we like to discuss… First, is the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook. We just reached 700 members in that group! Its evidence managers and evidence custodians from across the country, who are gathered together to talk about evidence, share best practices, and ask for advice. It’s this great community that everyone should be joining so that you can not only get great content but interact with your actual peer group too.
We also offer FREE online evidence management training through our partnership with the Evidence Management Institute. So, definitely check them out.
Today I have Officer Crowley and Lieutenant Adam Pape with the Forest Park Police Department with me. We are going to really dive in because they have had an interesting two years of activity at their property and evidence room. They have: One revamped and built out a new evidence room. And two, they have implemented an evidence management software system. So those two things we’re gonna definitely get more into today. Again, thank you so much for being with us.
Let’s start off with high-level introductions. So, Tracker Products… As you know we’re an evidence management software company, but what we are really trying to do is change the culture of evidence management.
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Right now, we are teaming up with partners like the Evidence Management Institute to offer a total evidence management solution to all of our clients. Because we don’t just care that you have great software, but we also want to make sure that you’re following the best industry practices. And, ultimately that the industry as a whole is elevated to the next level.
One of the ways we do that is by sharing thoughts and ideas, which is why our webinars, like the one we have today, are so valuable. We get such high interest from people because they want to see how other agencies manage their evidence.
As for our guests… Could you briefly introduce yourselves? Let me know a little bit about what your current positions are at Forest Park and how long have you been working here for the agency?”
The Commander went first, and said, “I’m Adam Pape. I’m a Lieutenant here in Forest Park. This is my 23rd year here. I’m the operations commander. So, I oversee both the road patrol and the CID; Criminal Investigations Division. As part of that, I also oversee the property room.”
Officer Crowley said, “I started at this agency in 2007, so a total of over 23 years of service. I’m assigned to the road patrol, and I’m one of the three property officers here. My background is in crime scenes and evidence.”
David said, “Excellent. So, both of you have a lot of tenure and experience in law enforcement. When it comes to property and evidence, what drew you to this role and what was it like when you first came into the Evidence Unit?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “Just so we’re clear, nothing drew me to this unit. For 21 years I wanted nothing to do with the property room. Then I got promoted to Lieutenant and the Captain said, ‘Congratulations, you’re in charge of the Evidence Unit.’ And the Chief, who got promoted at the same time, said, ‘We want to redo things.’ So, he put me in charge of it. I grabbed Phil and we ran with it from there.”
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David said, “When you say you wanted to change things, what specifically were you wanting to change? What kickstarted this activity? Can you rewind to about two years ago?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “Our property room was overcrowded. It was kind of discombobulated, really no flow to it whatsoever. One of the main [reasons for that] was we didn’t get rid of property. Another issue was we couldn’t find property. Not all the time, but there were times where you’d go to the property office and say, I need this property for court. Then, it was a day and a half long search in the property room before you could actually find that piece of property. It was put in the wrong place or somehow it was just lost in the property room.”
David asked, “Was there a particular negative instance…something that really kick started [a change] from the executive level saying, Hey, this is something we need to address. If so, what was that?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “When our Chief became the Chief a couple years ago, he wanted to become a CALEA accredited department; which we weren’t at the time. He had also learned from a Chief’s meeting, or a Chief’s training, that basically the biggest liability he has – being in charge of the police department – is the property and evidence room. A) he knew we would not pass CALEA accreditation with our current setup and B) he did not want to be indicted. So, that’s when he put us in charge of changing things around.”
David added, “So again, a lot of the liability falls on the property room. I think everyone on this webinar would agree. It is one of the most important functions of a PD. I would even say that the evidence is a great snapshot of how the overall operation is run. So, if you’ve got a really clean cut evidence room operation, that’s reflective of your department. Luckily, it sounds like you had the managerial support system in place, which unfortunately isn’t the case for everybody.
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Did you get any pushback when you started to make the recommendations: I think we need to update and build a new facility, as well as get evidence management software?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “The only pushback we had was monetary. Everything comes down to money and we are not flush with it here in Forest Park. So, we came up with some workarounds. As far as the demolition, we did that ourselves. We did that in conjunction with our public works guys. So, we gutted it ourselves.
Then we got a company, Patterson Pope, to come in and do the shelving for us. That was the main expense. But, by the time we showed what we were spending and what it would give us, the argument was made that the money is worth it. At the end of the day, they approved it.”
David said, “You communicated that through liability for your executive staff. If some missing evidence happened to occur, you would be in a pretty bad spot. You also had another incident happen that sort of brought the problems to the forefront. Unfortunately, you were hit with a cyber attack a little while ago, in 2018. Can you tell us a little bit about what systems were impacted? Was the evidence room impacted by that cyber attack? And how did you use that as a lesson-learned opportunity to make your decisions for moving forward?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “Back in 2018, the records management system we used – along with 22 other agencies here in Hamilton County – had a huge data loss. Whether or not it was a cyber attack, which we suspect it was, or whatever other reason… When they went offline, all of our data from 2014 until that point… was gone. It took well over a year before they could restore that data. Even still, there’s a chunk of time we will never get it back. So, the data are lost, which is huge for a police department. Not having your records management system, and then not being able to go back and find reports, which detailed the evidence and property that was brought in, was a huge thing when that happened… for every agency here in the County.”
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David said, “I can hear the people online cringing. That is one of the top nightmares that you would experience as that PD. So, when that occurred, did that bring into play some of your inklings to have a separate evidence management system outside of the RMS?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “Yes. We made the decision, once we found the system that we liked, to not go with the typical RMS module for property. It’s not as in-depth. We like it separate. We like our RMS system with their own backup and our property management software, with its multiple backups, on two separate systems. After the loss, we felt more comfortable doing that.”
David said, “I think we are going to jump into some before and after photos of your intake room and how your property room looked before. So, let’s jump right in. I believe our first picture is going to be a before and after of your intake.”
David continued by saying, “On the left hand side, this was your intake processing area before. Can you tell me a little bit about the changes that were made? It does look like you were a little bit cramped in terms of space.”
Lieutenant Pape said, “As you can see, we gutted that area. We got rid of it, put on a nice steel table. Just made it more organized with our packaging. We actually changed our packaging as well to an envelope system that works beautifully for us. Then Phil put together the instructions you see on the wall (in the photo on the right), as far as how to package certain things.”
Officer Crowley added, “There is also a full book that we made for the patrol officers.”
David said, “So you have the standardized policy procedure within the room and some of your most common packaging items, I assume, so officers can have it as a reference. I certainly can see from here it’s definitely a cleaner setup. Let’s go down another page. This is the old room again…
You had a sink station area. It does clearly look like some items are spilled over, as you had mentioned with some space capacity issue. So again, a little bit lackluster in terms of what you are wanting. Let’s jump over to today with another angle of your processing room…
So again, you’re utilizing evidence management software and you’ve got an intake station, for officers to be able to log into the system, enter their evidence, print out their barcode label, and not only package, but put the evidence together. It’s nice that it’s all organized right there in the room. Let’s go to our next picture…
This is something you didn’t have prior to the upgrade. You didn’t have any pass-through shelving or temporary lockers that fed directly into the secure evidence unit. So, what is this system here? Are there any specifics you can tell us about this?”
Officer Crowley said, “These are next to the steel table from the prior picture. The officer’s gonna package all this stuff, enter it, put a label on it, put his evidence tape on it. It’s gonna be in this software. While he’s putting this evidence together, he’s gonna mark one of the lockers that it’s gonna go into – which is temporary storage – he then puts it in there, locks the button, and it’s secure until a property officer takes it out from the opposite side.”
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David said, “And, from the evidence management software perspective… on your dashboard on the homepage… that has all of your evidence listed, what’s coming in and out. You have done a good job of customizing the system, so that you have a whole section on temporary storage lockers. You’ll actually see, in the morning when you come on to shift, Hey, locker one, two, and five have items in there. I know we have some intake processing that needs to be done.
Another thing to notice about these locker systems, that I love, is on the right hand side, it looks like you’ve got both cold storage, as well as electronic storage. Can you tell me a little bit about your decision to include that specifically?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “Because we only have three property room officers, there’s a chance that one or all of us are off at the same time – especially over a weekend – so, if we have something that needs to be kept cold over that weekend, it can be locked in there. It locks just the same as all the other units. So A, B, C, D there that you see, all lock individually.
The cell phone storage came about more recently. Changes have been made with the cell phone data and how you actually retrieve that. If you allow a cell phone to die, your chances of getting that data restored drop dramatically. So, we put the cables in here, there are six to nine cables in there for both Android and Apple that officers can log in, plug it in, and then lock it. And then, we can get it from the other side and bring it to where it needs to go.”
David said, “Excellent. So, you’re eliminating the risk of not being able to extract the data.”
Officer Crowley said, “They enter the electronics the same way. They put the envelope in there with the label on it and we secure it once we know what’s going on with it. In the meantime, they’ve got to charge it.”
David said, “These are the pictures of your old property and evidence room. Obviously, at first glance, you had a lot of property and evidence. What capacity level would you say you guys were at?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “Borderline maximum capacity. Definitely at maximum capacity with shelves. That’s why you see things on the floors, things that are falling over. You couldn’t walk between those two shelving units. It was a cluster…”
David said, “Obviously, you’re looking at multiple things… not only getting things off the ground for ease of use, but also safety issues, and possibly compromising the integrity of evidence itself.”
Officer Crowley said, “Right. And, this was an old pen and paper system.”
David said, “There was no computer and no tracking. You just were finding a needle in a haystack, essentially. You knew roughly where bigger items were, but if you look to the left, (in the image above) there’s a big box and bins with things just thrown into them. So, you were starting from square one every time you were asked to retrieve something, right?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “Those blue bins were typically officers’ bins. So, there’d be a name of an officer attached to it. They were only supposed to have property that those individual officers brought in. However, that rarely worked out for us. It was difficult. An officer might say, Hey, I need this item for court. And then, you’d pull their bin – which could have years worth of items in it – only to find… it’s not in that bin. So, then you’re launching a search and recovery for some piece of property that’s lost. And, you’ve got to go through all the handwritten logs… item by item.”
David said, “Just looking at some of the shelving, there isn’t a lot of space. And, it looks like you’ve got some loose items… not really packaged or in any kind of envelopes or containers, right? So, was this a problem with just capacity because you guys had so much crime, or was this a buildup of years of not doing disposition?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “We didn’t have any real disposition process except once a year. Our main property guy would send out an email saying, Hey, come and look at your bin and let us know what you can get rid of. But, disposition was contingent upon the officer actually following through on that email, which rarely occurred. So, what you see here is just years and years of neglect.
When we redid the property room, we had stuff from the 80’s that we were coming across… from officers who had been retired for many, many years. And, for minor cases too! It wasn’t a homicide we were dealing with. It was just… Here’s a piece of property from 1987. So yeah, a lot of property that just wasn’t going out.”
David said, “To clarify, today the process is much different. You have implemented disposition on a regular basis. Now, you’re also utilizing software to help with that. A little bit of the features of our software is automatic disposition; where automatic notifications go out based on your offense type. It tells the officer that, Hey, you have a case that you need to review… on a regular basis. So it’s not the: Once a year process. It’s whenever that case is up for review that the system automatically assigns a task based on your entry.
You’re also utilizing the tasking feature to be able to say, Hey, I need to update your cases – the ones that you have entered in the last 90 days – I want them reviewed. You can also send out your own unique tasks to notify them.”
Lieutenant Pape said, “Yes. It’s fully customizable. You can send out a task to any officer saying, We need an update on this case. But the automatic disposition is set up to where Phil and I can see all the tasks that are out there and whether or not an officer has dealt with them. The system alerts us either… Hey, the officer answered this task and they’re telling me this can be disposed of, or this needs to be held for court. Then we can proceed with that piece of property going forward from there.”
David said, “Again, it’s making sure that you don’t have items on the screen that aren’t being touched on a regular basis. You went from once a year, to multiple touches, either monthly or quarterly. So, it’s continual processing throughout the year.
Obviously, when we get into the room, you’re going to see quite a stark difference from what we’re displaying on the screen. Now, looking at these different areas, can you explain what you’ve got within the property room, you have a sink as well as a processing center…”
Lieutenant Pape said, “And we had a bucket under the sink… because the sink worked so well. This was a big mess. The processing center is where we did our fingerprints, our fuming, and that was in the old property room. One of our goals was to gut the entire thing and relocate things so you didn’t have to go inside the property room to actually process the evidence.”
David said, “I think it’s also pertinent that you guys did evaluate what was wrong with the old property room. I mean, obviously leaking water on the floor? When you used to have packages sitting on the floor, that could be a really big, catastrophic problem.
Can you tell me a little bit about how long the planning process took? When you guys were getting quotes for building the new property room, that took into account your shopping list of features that you wanted built into it, right?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “It took a few months to actually get different companies to give us the quotes and their layouts about what they thought would work best, how much room we would save, and then get the approval from not only our administration, but the city admins to go ahead with it.
Truthfully for the property software, once we located the software we wanted… that was a matter of days. When we said, Look, this is what we want. This is what it will do for us. And, this is how much it’s gonna cost. They were like, All right, do it.”
David said, “I was with you on that day. Before the revamp was done, you made a point to say, We definitely want the software done at the same time as this activity. I advocate that a lot. How much time do you think that saves by doing both processes simultaneously versus building your room and then implementing the software after?”
Lieutenant Pape said, “It cut the time in half. Moving everything out – which is what we did for the renovation – and then when we brought everything back in, we brought it in through Tracker’s SAFE system. So, now everything was labeled, everything was in the system, and we knew where absolutely everything was.
If we didn’t have a system at that time, and we moved everything back in, I’d have to move it all back out and bring it all back in through the system, again, to do a full inventory.”
David said, “We would’ve data-imported your information, but you need to physically do that full 100% inventory to touch each item.”
Lieutenant Pape said, “We didn’t have that information for your data-in because we lost all of it using the old RMS system.”
David said, “Right. So, as you were bringing things back in, you did a fairly sizable purge. As you did this activity, you were able to move your items, touch everything, and you knew exactly where it was going in the property room; logged by the system. But also those outliers, those items that were lost based on the old process or the old system. You were then able to get your Chief in the District’s Attorney Office to basically say, Yes, this is court ordered to dispose of.
What percentage of the property room do you think that cut down? From what I see, I would guesstimate that you were at about 95% probably. Boxes on top of boxes, obviously don’t want that falling on people.”
Lieutenant Pape said, “I would say right now, with our current setup, we’re at about 30% capacity… if that.”
Officer Crowley said, “We’ve got plenty of room, you guys will see that in a minute. With us being able to keep track of what’s coming in, going out and destroying stuff with court orders… We’ve done four of ’em since we started with this system and we’ve got plenty of room.”
David said, “Can you tell me a little bit about your packaging changes? Because what we’ll see when we go into the new evidence unit is that all of these bottles and loose items that were on the shelf before (see image above)… that’s no longer the case.”
Officer Crowley said, “We did some research with some neighboring agencies that are using the same system. The SAFE system. The envelopes were kind of copied off of some different stuff that people were using and it’s working out great for us. We have basically two envelopes for everything. If it fits, it goes in one of these two envelopes. We do still have some other packaging, because obviously big stuff is not gonna fit in envelopes. So, those are packed separately. And once we get in the room, you’ll see how well these envelopes work. Everything else we’ve done was something we came up with, or made ourselves.”
David said, “All right. I think this might be the end of the slides of the old storage area.
The last slide (below) is actually of the temporary storage location where you moved everything once you were in the process of renovating the facility.
So again, this was another secure area where in the interim of the process of the facility being built, you had to move everything over. From this standpoint, we’ve had a good view of just how full you were. I think everybody online has either had some idea of what that feels like to be on the front end of this big activity… starting over. But then also the exciting part, which is the transformation.
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Part of what we’ve tried to do in some of our newsletters and blog posts is we like to highlight success stories. I think your transformation can be summarized by one ‘word’ – 360. You’ve completely transformed your property room. Let’s switch presenters as we are about to take you for the first live walkthrough of the evidence unit.
Max, real quick, do we have any questions before we get started?”
Max (Tracker’ Products’ Head of Marketing) said, “Yes. David, there was one question… How big of an area is the evidence room?”
Officer Crowley said, “You’ll see when we get in there, that we’ve got a roller system in the middle. With the company that helped us select the shelving, we added a lot of room. The room itself is still the same size, but with this setup, we’ve got plenty of room.”
In part 2 of this webinar, we will take a live tour of the completely renovated property and evidence room. Be prepared to be impressed!”
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 over 700 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.