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Forest Park Police Department Virtual Evidence Room Tour – Part 2

January 12, 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…

David continued the webinar by saying, “We want to dive right into it, but there are some general things we like to discuss at the beginning of every webinar… First, 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 you should join, so that you can not only get great content, but interact with your actual peer group.

We also offer FREE online evidence management training through our partnership with the Evidence Management Institute as well as in-person training. So, definitely check them out. 

Today, I have with me Officer Crowley and Lieutenant Adam Pape, with the Forest Park Police Department. In Part 1 of this webinar, we focused on the ‘Before’ status of their Evidence Unit. In Part 2, we will be doing the ‘Great Reveal’ of their ‘After’ Evidence Unit. I’m SUPER excited to share this with all of you! Officer Crowley, why don’t you begin…” 

***David Marks (right), Lieutenant Adam Pape (left), and Officer Crowley (center)

Officer Crowley said, “During the reconstruction, we didn’t make the room bigger – it’s still the same concrete walls – just the storage system changed.

As far as our police department, we have 37 police officers here. Within our county, we’re a medium size agency. So for us, this works perfectly.”

David said, “Excellent. While we’re here, let’s talk about the room we’re currently in. This is your larger item storage facility, correct?”

Officer Crowley said, “It’s for processing. You saw the before pictures of the property room, we took all that stuff out. This is a room that’s adjoining. It can also be locked down. For example, recently we had a big case where we had a vehicle in here and were waiting on a search warrant. Once we got it, that’s when we did all of our evidence tech stuff: processing, photographing… that’s pretty much what’s gonna happen in here. 

This room can be locked down, and the only access is for the three property people that we have. So, the detectives will come to us and say, Hey, we need to get in there and get some details or whatever. We can get it for them. 

And you can see here, our fingerprinting, most of our fuming, and all kinds of evidence processing is gonna happen in here, but it can also be utilized as a large storage area too; temporarily if we have to.”

David said, “Excellent. So, as we start to head into the property room there are some things to note. First, the security system. You’ve got different coding to get into the main room.”

Officer Crowley said, “Yeah. With the accreditation process, we obviously went with this system for now. The three of us each have our own code. You all know that you have [multi-layered] security. [With this system], each one of us knows when somebody’s in or out. Everything’s under camera. This entire room is under camera [surveillance], as well as every area in the property room itself.”

Lieutenant Pape added, “Also, the door here (behind Officer Crowley) has a key code combination as well. The three property officers each have our own [unique] combination. So, I’ve got one, separate from Phil… We also have another door inside that goes to the drug, money and gun room. It’s got a separate code as well. So, we’re the only three with access to that too.”

David said, “So really you have a main general property area, a separate room for where the intake is happening, but then sequestered in its own room, you’ve got your drugs, your guns, your money; separated with an additional set of locks and authentication needed to be able to get into that portion.

Okay… let’s head on in…”

Officer Crowley said, “When we were going through construction, we knew once the systems were in, we wanted to put all our sex assault evidence together. All our homicide evidence would stay together in a different place. Because, obviously, you have to keep those two forever. We have general property in some of the other areas. And, other stuff is waiting for destruction. Everything’s customizable with the software and we that’s how we did it.”

David said, “Awesome. So again, you’ve got everything from your yellow envelopes here (below), kind of your small and medium size envelopes…” 

Officer Crowley said, “These are the only two sizes of envelopes we use. We told our officers, if it fits, it goes in here and anything else is gonna be in a bag (as you can see to Officer Crowley’s right). Everything else: drugs, money, jewelry – whatever it is – if it fits in here, it goes in here. And, as you can see, we’ve got tons of room.”

David added, “It’s got the barcode location area. So, when you’re actually moving property in, you are scanning the barcode item as well as location to perform all of your transactions.”

Lieutenant Pape said, “One of the biggest differences between what we had before and what we have now, is that we take that piece of property from the pass-through, scan it, scan where it’s going – with the mobile app on my cell phone – and the system recognizes it instantaneously. The system knows exactly where that piece of property is. So, even if you make a mistake, like putting the item in the wrong location, as long as we scan it, which we’re going to do, the system knows where it is. You can find it as quickly as you need it.”

Officer Crowley said, “These are all electronics (on the shelves he’s pointing to), cell phones and video like DVDs; any recovered video. If I accidentally put that in another area, where bullet casings or anything else are, we can say, Oh, okay, this isn’t supposed to be here. We know where it’s at. So, we’ll come here and physically move it. Then change the location in the system.”

David said, “What about wifi connection again? I see security cameras up here. This is also retrofit. So, it’s got wifi.”

Lieutenant Pape said, “This whole area is cinder block and brick, so there’s not a lot of regular signal. We did have a wifi hub put in and that’s all we needed. We have one little guy up there and it gives us what we need throughout the entire area.”

David said, “And from a security standpoint, these brick and mortar walls go all the way up through the ceiling. So there isn’t any risk of external access. Nobody’s getting in the ceiling.”

Officer Crowley said, “And just real quick… I know somebody asked about square footage. This is the old room, but if you just go down the aisle here, you’ll see this roller system…

I mean, you can look in here, we still have a lot of space we haven’t even utilized. That’s the picture you looked at with all that stuff crammed on them little shelves, is now on the roller system in here. You can see, we’ve got tons of empty shelves. We got lots of room still left.”

David said, “So, utilizing the space savers is a great investment, according to every agency I’ve ever talked to. Looking here (see below), you can see you still have a lot of room.”

Officer Crowley added, “We’ve also got top shelves. We could actually move all of this to a different area if we needed to. We could simply go in the SAFE system and say, We want to  move shelf 25 over here, and it will change everything over in the system and then we physically come here and move it.”

David said, “Wow! Looks like now your capacity, especially with all these empty shelves, you have that room to really grow. Your walkways are clear. You don’t have boxes on top of boxes. So, from a safety standpoint, as well as a general inventory management standpoint, it’s much simpler for you to do your typical processing. 

I also see you have cold storage (above) as well. Is this just biological? Do you have a sexual assault kits or…”  

Lieutenant Pape said, “It’s all biological. Our sexual assault kits are back on this wall (below) here and those typically don’t need to be refrigerated. 

David said, “All right. Let’s see where temporary lockers feed through.”

Officer Crowley said, “This is actually just still part of our main property room (below). These are just stationary shelves: found property, safekeeping, backpacks, stuff like that. 

When we take people to jail, their backpack comes here. For found property, the officer will tag it and check it in. This is big item storage stuff that doesn’t fit in those envelopes necessarily.” 

Officer Crowley walked to the backside of the pass-through lockers and said, “I can see on my main screen that there’s one item in here. This is the opposite side of the intake that you seen from the processing area that the officers use. 

In this instance, there’s one item here. So, I’m gonna go ahead and unlock it. 

This would be the cold storage (below), if there was anything in there that I would’ve already known that prior to this, because I was looking at my main screen on the Tracker app.

If I’m off on the weekend, there could be 10 items in there. I just use this cart (below). I’ll put everything here. I know from being here that I’ve set it up to where drug paraphernalia’s all in one place, fire casings, backpacks, whatever. 

So, I’ll put ’em in groups. This package is  a small bottle of alcohol (in the envelope on the cart). And like I said, if it fits, it goes in there. With drums, we put them in plastic first and then inside of paper packaging because of all the fentanyl stuff; if you guys were worried about that. 

I just simply pull up the app and it logs me in. I use my phone, but if you don’t want to use your phone, we do have an iPad that’s dedicated to this, and it’s the same app. 

All I do is just set my camera. I take the picture to scan it. It’s gonna show up here. If I had five items I’d go ahead – while I’ve got the camera out – and scan all five of ’em here. We keep our stuff here in containers until it’s either sent to the lab or destroyed. We’ve got three containers on unit four. So, I can pick whichever one. If I want this bin, I’m just gonna go here and put ‘move item.’ It’s that easy. 

It’s already got my name on it because I’m logged in under my settings. And, I scanned the location. I’m gonna go to bin one (above). I do my signature. The system will confirm it and show that it’s in bin one right here. So, it’s saying it’s on unit four and in bin one. If the officer asks for it for court, I can simply pull it back up under his name. Or now, if I know it’s alcohol, I know which shelf it’s on. I can even scan this bin and tell you everything that’s in there. Works great!”

David added, “And everything is being translated onto your chain of custody. You don’t have to have the old school method of grabbing this cart, setting up your laptop, which is connected to the Bluetooth scanner that’s tethered to a wall… 

I’ve gotta ask, before the improvements you weren’t doing much of a disposition process. Doing an inventory would be difficult, especially by hand, right? How quickly and how often are you guys now using the inventory aspects of the software?”

RELATED: INVENTORY  A CRUCIAL PART OF EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT

Lieutenant Pape said, “With CALEA, we’ve got quarterly ones we do. We’ve got random ones that we do. Now, they’re very quick, very easy. I can say with our last system – before all of this, when I wasn’t involved in the property room – I don’t believe an inventory occurred ever. Period. 

Now, they occur several times a year. Like now, we’ve got a new property officer coming in, because one of our others left. So, we’re gonna have to do a full inventory. One hundred percent of the property room has to be inventoried. That’ll probably be a matter of getting the entire thing done in under an hour.” 

David said, “So, it’s not only helping you stay more organized, it is a huge time saver. The two biggest things with any software – as well as the property room – we’re trying to manage those two key commodities: Time and space. And, it looks like you’re managing both much more effectively. 

Okay… The last room is the separate area for your drugs, guns and money. Again, you have additional security features. You’ve gotta have your own separate key code to get in…”

Lieutenant Pape said, “There is a camera in here as well. So, this is our drugs money and guns. This whole side here (below) is drugs and we’ve got it sectioned off; as far as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, on down to different types. 

And then this whole wall (below) is gonna be guns. Our money is in the safe down there. You got long guns up top and everything again is sectioned off. [In the envelopes, on the left] they are all knives. Far down the row, there are guns that are ready for destruction.”

Officer Crowley said, “And fired casings. These casings (in the image below) could be test fired and they’re actually tagged and related to the original property or the gun. So, you know when you scan that gun that there’s been test fires that have already occurred because they are subbed off of the main property as a tag. And it’s very easy to do. You can do that right from your cell phone as well.

David said, “You do something that I found interesting in regards to your drugs and any kind of disposition that you’re doing. Can you explain how you’re actually utilizing the system, customizing as a process that you’re comfortable with, in terms of getting court orders and ultimately working through disposition?”

Lieutenant Pape said, “Again, this is my comfort level. I customized the system this way because this makes me comfortable in how it flows. So, when an officer brings – and in this case it’s going to be drugs… marijuana, it goes here.  

Which is general storage for the marijuana. Until it goes to court, goes to the lab, whatever. [It stays here] until the officer gets that task and they say, This can be destroyed. Once I get that task that says, This can be destroyed, then I physically move it. I scan it away from this bin and I scan it to this bin down here (below). 

I know everything in that bin is specifically tagged, marked and awaiting a court order. Now, this bin’s getting kind of full. I can do a search by that bin, and all those items are automatically listed in there. It prints out. I put it with my affidavit. I send it to our attorney downtown. I get a court order [that approves destruction.] 

RELATED: THE POWER OF AUTOMATING EVIDENCE DISPOSITION

David added, “Because, within our system, you simply click the location. It pulls up everything, you select ‘All,’ get all the paperwork; any kind of reporting you need, and you can just download it directly.” 

Lieutenant Pape said, “Once I get that court order back, I’ll take all of that and I’ll move it to this upper bin (below), which is awaiting destruction. 

Again, this is how it flows for me. The system didn’t come set up this way. We customized it. So, you know us with our ‘disorders,’ we gotta do things in certain ways. It works out for us in the best fashion.”

David said, “And so, you know this is ready to be destroyed. You’re just waiting till you have the time. Again, the system on your dashboard will tell you, Hey, I’ve got 50 items or I’ve got 80 items, awaiting destruction. But, you don’t know if 80 items for a bigger agency is a lot. Maybe it’s not. But, for a smaller agency that might be tons and tons. 

But you can come and look at this bin and say, Oh yeah, our 50 items are very much full in this bin. We need to get this process moving. Because again, that continual process of disposing of as much as you can, immediately when it’s eligible is what’s crucial.” 

RELATED: TACKLING EVIDENCE ACCUMULATION CHALLENGES WITH AUTO DISPOSITION

Lieutenant Pape said, “Yes. Once anything gets destroyed per a court order, we scan that court order in and do a mass update scan for all those items. It’s all the same court order. It’s all the same approval number for us that it links to. So, if you ever needed to go back into the system later on, even though it’s marked in red, meaning that it’s been destroyed, it’ll have that attachment to it. So, you can find out exactly why it was destroyed, when it was destroyed and what court order [approved it].” 

David said, “So, a year from now, if the Chief comes in and he’s hassling you… Why was this destroyed? Without any hesitation you click into the case. You find that  information, Here you go.

Max, do we have any other questions before we exit the property room?” 

Max (Tracker Products’ Head of Marketing) said, “Someone asked, How well does the vehicle bay work in conjunction with your evidence?”

Lieutenant Pape said, “The vehicle bay is marked as a separate storage unit. So, just like over here, this bin two, I’ve got the lab/garage as a storage unit. As soon as I bring a car in to be processed, I actually have a sticker on one of the walls. I scan it because the car gets logged in as well. It gets a property tag. I scan it, so now it’s in the system as being in the lab/garage. 

Once we’re done processing it. And it goes to, say our impound lot, that too has a separate tag to it. I scan it and mark it in the system as being in our impound lot. If it goes anywhere else, that’s not controlled by us, like  a tow yard or something like that, then it’s considered disposed of. And, I mark that it was disposed of on this date; either to Angle Towing or it’s released to the owner.”

Officer Crowley added, “For your crime scene guys… if you have a homicide or something, you’re hanging bloody clothes or you’re drying clothes out, we do that in our lab/garage as well. We lock that lab down, and that evidence… we actually enter it prior to it being hung. So, we have the property tag and we know it’s in that lab storage area. So, everything – as far as accountability goes – you’ve got it from the time it comes in until you package [and move] it.”

Lieutenant Pape said, “So, the chain of custody report will show everything that it was logged into the lab garage. Then it was moved from there and packaged – I’m talking about bloody clothing once it’s dried – now it’s packaged and it’s put on a shelf in here (the inner storage area). Chain of custody has it every step of the way.”

David said, “All right, so this was the grand tour. Let’s go and do a quick wrap up. Maybe some more questions are being generated, and I just have a couple final thoughts.” 

David said, “So, you’ve gone through this process of both revamping your evidence room and coming into software. A lot of agencies are getting prepped to do this activity. What would you say, having gone through it now? You’ve had some growing pains. You’ve had some hiccups along the way. It’s always a learning process. What would you say was your biggest lesson learned for: a facility move, going software, as well as what would you have done differently? In retrospect, if you had to go through this process all over again.”

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Lieutenant Pape said, “One of the best things we did was travel around. Like Phil said earlier, we traveled around, went to other departments to find out how they were doing it, what worked for them, what didn’t work for them, what they wanted to do differently. That’s where we came up with the envelope process. We went to another agency that was using the SAFE system

We learned a lot from them and we utilized some of what they came up with. So, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. A lot of people have been doing this for years and years. I was new to property when I took this over. Phil was new to the restructuring of property when we took it over. So, put yourself out there, actually go visit places and see what they’re doing that works for them. 

What would I do differently? I really don’t know that we would do anything differently. It worked out pretty well.”

Officer Crowley added, “And I’ll tell you guys, a lot of our patrol officers [resist change]. But, this has been an easy transformation. I mean, they’re logging their property in. It’s quick and easy. They all have their own password and their own login. We can have two officers at a time logged into the system – that depends on your agency size and how many licenses you need – but it’s been great. 

RELATED: ADAPTING TO NEW EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT PROTOCOLS

And they’re not, they’re just bringing their stuff in here, they’re creating a case and submitting it. Technically you could use the mobile app, they could do it right on their mobile app from their cruisers. We don’t do that here, based on the size of our agency, but that’s something else that’s possible. It’s very user friendly and the format of it’s easy to learn. 

We didn’t have any problems transitioning from the old pen and paper system to this. It has been a blessing. And, I consider myself an old guy when it comes to computer technology. These young kids are whipping right through this.”

RELATED: EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE VERSUS PEN AND PAPER

David said, “Honestly that is refreshing to hear, because a system that’s cumbersome and that’s difficult to use, won’t be used. It will be pushed back on hard. As much as technology can help us automate and simplify processes – and give us better controls from a management level – it also has to be simple and easy for them to learn.”

Lieutenant Pape said, “This is a very user friendly system. I’m used to RMS systems, which are not flexible at all. We have molded this to work the way we want it to work. And, if there are things I don’t know how to do in the system, I’ll email your customer support team and I’ll get one back and they’re like… That’s a great idea, let’s do it! Or… This is how you do it. 

We’ve got customized forms in there with our logo on it; property release forms and things like that. They don’t hesitate to say, We can do that. Let’s put that in. So, that’s been great.”

David said, “Would you say the user friendliness and the customization of the system is the part of this that surprised you the most?”

Officer Criwley said, “Actually, mobile surprised me the most. Being able to use an iPad or something like that. If the officers are comfortable with it, they can use their own cell phone. It’s so easy. 

Even releasing property or moving property… We get guys saying, I need this for court. So, I’ll come in here and get it. I’ll bring it out to them, they’ll sign my phone and it’s a done deal. Now, we don’t have people keeping stuff in lockers for a while.”

David said, “Having the accountability measures helps. And the new room… I personally think it looks fantastic. We get to view a lot of property rooms and I’m sure there’s somebody online that is inspired by your story. Being able to say, Wow, I can go from what seems like this monumental task… if you break it down into steps, if you go through the process right. In a relatively short period of time, you can completely change things.” 

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

Officer Crowley added, “And, if your Chief is worried about liability and the property… I didn’t necessarily volunteer for this at first, but it’s easy. We don’t worry about liability at this point. It’s that easy.” 

David said, “Fantastic. Let’s check back in with Max one last time. Do we have any final questions or can we call it a day?”

Max said, “There actually was one last question. Did you set up any type of air filtration system in the drug area?”

Officer Crowley said, “That’s a good question. There is a filtration system that was already there. I don’t know when that was set up, but it is there and it filters to the outside. When they added this piece of the building on, years ago, that was one of the things they did with the property room. So yes, we do. You’re still gonna get the odor and everything else, but as far as humidity and all that, we’ve been fine. And, we’ve got temperature control.”

Lieutenant Pape said, “Thankfully, we didn’t have to add that into our remodel. That is something that would really cost you… unless your own maintenance or building department can do it.”

In closing, David said, “Thank you very much for opening up your property room to our audience. There were some valuable takeaways today. If you would like to ask them questions directly, please join the Facebook Evidence Management Community Forum. That is where the value-add for these types of activities can be found. 

Now, people might have something else that they want to ask or to learn about. And, there are content experts who get involved and are more than willing to help you guys out. Again, this has been Tracker Products hosting from the Forest Park  PD. Have a great day everyone, and join us again next time.”

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.