Hillview Police Department (KY) Virtual Evidence Room Tour – Part 1
May 11, 2021
In this webinar, Ben Townsend, the founder and CEO of Tracker Products, sat down with Lieutenant Charles McWhirter (left) and Detective Scott Barrow (right) of the Hillview Police Department to discuss their outstanding evidence management practices, and to virtually tour their facilities.
Ben began by saying, “We’ll start with you, Lieutenant. How did you get into the evidence room?”
The Lieutenant said, “When I came here from Tennessee in 2012, I went to the patrol division and after a couple of years I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. At that time, we only had one detective and one of the roles and responsibilities for us was the evidence room.
When I took over the evidence room, we were still using log books and evidence cards. There was about 16 years worth of evidence in the property room, but a lot of those cases had been adjudicated. So, the evidence had gone through the justice system, but it was never destroyed. I knew that we had to get some type of organization in there and start purging that property room of any old evidence.
To give your audience a visual picture of what it was like back in 2016… when you pushed the door open to enter the evidence room, you were literally pushing evidence – that was piled up on the floor – out of the way. You literally had to step over things to get from the front of the property room to the back.”
Ben said, “ I always ask people this…. What was the thought in your mind? I mean, my assumption is that you were already in charge of the property room before you ever stepped into it. Did you get a chance to look at it first?”
The Lieutenant said, “I did get a chance to look at it first. My initial thought was, I definitely have my work cut out for me. Obviously, we did an inventory before the property room changed hands from the outgoing to the incoming.
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I’d never managed a property room. I got kind of a crash course as far as how it worked. So, a lot of it was just research: visiting other departments, seeing what everybody else was doing, looking at policies and procedures from other agencies. 2016 was also the year that our agency went toward accreditation. So, there were a lot of things from the accreditation standards that we had to put into place. A lot of that helped as a guideline for me to get to the end result.”
Ben said, “Let’s bounce back and forth with the pictures on the screen, and that way you can each explain a little bit of what’s going on. Let’s start out by showing what it looks like today. And then we’re going to really dig into some of the packaging stuff that you’ve put into play. We’ve got a really big crowd here today. I think it’s because I posted on the Facebook Evidence Management Community Group, that we were going to talk about the vacuum sealing process and some of the things that you guys are doing. People are very interested in that.
So, let’s just get a bit of an overview. I’m showing some stuff on your screen.” (See image above)
The detective said, “This is actually the evidence processing room. All evidence will get processed in this room. It has two cameras inside this room, one on each opposite corner. So, it has a camera as soon as the person walks into the evidence processing room, and then it has another one that looks directly down over top of the processing table.
When they walk in, the first thing they’re going to do is clean off the table. They’re going to use a surface cleaner or sanitation wipes, to make sure that there was no contamination left behind. They’ll use gloves. For some evidence, they’ll use goggles and a mask.
Every single drug that comes in is double bagged. It doesn’t matter if you took it off of the suspect and it was already in a baggie, it’s going to go into another baggie before it goes into an evidence bag. The reason for that is we’re trying to cut down on any type of contamination with the fentanyl/carfentanil. We’re seeing a lot more of that in our region, and we want to reduce the chance of somebody getting exposed to that.”
Ben said, “It seems to me that the idea of cleanliness and cross-contamination has been beaten into everybody. I assume you talk about it frequently, but there are signs everywhere. Keep this area clean. Does everybody comply with that? I assume everybody just rolls along with it, but how did you get to that point?”
The Lieutenant said, “As part of the accreditation process, the signage is required. So, obviously, it’s required for a reason. One of the things that we did is educate the officers through training about why it’s important to keep that area clean. Because cross-contamination… that’s what defense attorneys are going to attack when it comes to your evidence. How your evidence is processed, how it’s handled and things of that nature.
So, I like to tell the officers when you’re building a case – that’s going to go before a judge and potentially a jury – you act like that’s a loaded gun the defense attorney is going to fire at you when you’re on the stand. So, if you can take as many bullets out of that gun as possible and make sure that your case is air-tight – especially with evidence processing – you’re definitely going to walk into the courtroom with the ball more in your court and in your favor.”
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Ben said, “Somebody has already asked a question: What accreditation process did you go through?”
The Lieutenant said, “We are with KACP, which is the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police. It’s an organization here in Kentucky and basically, they have taken Kentucky standards and they’ve elevated those. So, we’re not only doing what the State of Kentucky requires, but we’re far exceeding that with the accreditation process. It’s every five years that you get reaccredited and they basically spot check everything during those five years to make sure that you’re in compliance and you’re doing everything that you’re supposed to.”
Ben said, “Let’s roll through some more pictures here and you guys can explain what’s going on. Let me go back to the cameras for just a moment because we don’t see a lot of cameras in use as I do these tours. But, you have multiple cameras. How long do you keep the video for?”
(Camera upper left corner, computer screen center-left)
The Detective said, “The computer screen that you’re looking at is actually the hard drive system that goes to our interview and interrogation room. When we’re doing an interview or interrogation, we can record that. We take that video off right away. As far as the other cameras, I believe that those get saved for about 45 days. They’re on a loop.
So, if there was ever a discrepancy – 45 days is more than enough time for us to get it into a temp locker and checked into the evidence room – so that’s more than enough time for us to find it.”
Ben said, “Have you ever had to go back and look at a discrepancy?”
The Lieutenant said, “Not to my knowledge. No. And, it’s not that we don’t trust the officers. The cameras are there to basically make sure everything is being done the right way. If there is a discrepancy like miscounting money or drugs; any miscount.
On our policy, one of the things that we require is: Any money has to be counted with a minimum of two people, just to ensure accuracy. The cameras are just there as a safeguard; in case there is something that we need to go back and look at to try to figure out what happened, or why a count is wrong. Somebody may have dropped something on the floor, and not see where it went. So, we could go back and use the cameras as an aid.”
Ben said, “My opinion on cameras is always… they’re there to help. It’s not there to hurt. And, if somebody does get hurt, they should be. But, there is a reality that when there’s a camera running, things are done differently. People react differently to having a camera recording.
I wonder if there’s anybody watching this webinar today that has cameras in the actual evidence room? I certainly see them in processing areas, but I don’t generally see them in the actual evidence room. Oh… I’m actually getting several responses from people that cameras are in the evidence room.”
Ben changed gears and said, “A big part of our discussion today is fentanyl. There is no doubt that this drug has popped up in the last couple of years; it’s a whole different animal altogether. How big of a deal is this in your area? You were explaining to me a little bit earlier that heroin has been a big problem, but how much fentanyl is running across your desk?”
The Detective said, “There’s actually quite a bit. The labels that are here in front of you were actually a reaction to what we were getting back from state police. When we took our drugs to the state police lab, we were getting them back with labels that were saying, Hey, there was fentanyl inside this drug, handle it with care. Be cautious.
We wanted to try to give them a heads up. So, if we talked to a suspect and a suspect overdosed – or whatever the case was – and we suspect that there could be fentanyl inside of that drug that we’re taking in, the officer will go ahead and affix our own label prior to going to the state police lab, so that they kind of have a little bit of a heads up. Not that they’re not already being cautious, but we want to kind of give them a little bit of a heads up: Hey, this officer suspects that there’s fentanyl in here. So, we’re going to handle it with this a little bit more care.”
Ben said, “Let’s go back a little… Tell me a little about your department. How many officers do you guys have, what’s the square mileage that you deal with, or number of citizens? Just give me some statistics about it.”
The Lieutenant said, “Our community is just under 10,000 citizens and we have a department size of about 20 full-time officers. So, we stay pretty busy. We get a lot of overflow from Louisville, Metro.”
Ben said, “The only difference between Hillview and the Omaha police department – which is a client of ours – it’s the same stuff, just a much larger amount of it, you know? When I show off Hillview’s evidence room in a minute – and it looks spectacular – there’s no reason a really large police department cannot be like that.
Hillview doesn’t have a full-time evidence custodian. Evidence management is one of their many jobs. So, a 20 man police department or a hundred man, you got to find a way to get these things done. There is no such thing as an excuse to throw evidence off to the wayside because you don’t have time to deal with it. It’s got to get done.
So… all of your officers do all their processing, right? They come in and bag everything right there?”
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The Lieutenant said, “That’s correct. By the way, the double-bagging is mainly for drug evidence; because of the fentanyl deal. But yeah, you’re correct. We set this room up when we went through our accreditation process. We wanted the officers to be able to enter this room and process their evidence properly: tape it up, seal it, sign it, and do everything they needed to do to actually put the evidence in the bag. And then we’ll say, Clean everything up, sit down at a workstation and go ahead and enter that data into the Tracker software system. From there, they can walk right down the hall and place that evidence into a temporary locker.”
Ben said, “When we were on the phone earlier, we went over some statistics. Right now, the Hillview police department has 781 pieces of evidence checked into their evidence room. The good part to me is, they’ve disposed of over a thousand pieces of evidence. And, this is just in the last couple of years. When you started using our software, you weren’t coming out of a different system, there was no possible import process. So, how did you go about getting all your old evidence into Tracker?”
The Lieutenant said, “Once we decided that we were going to go with Tracker, any and all new evidence that our agency took in would be entered into Tracker. The old evidence that was in log books and evidence cards. I had to go through and check to see if these cases were adjudicated. If so, we’d get rid of that evidence.
Once we went through that process – which was very lengthy, very time-consuming – we knew we had a bulk of evidence that we had to maintain; whether it was from a murder case that we’re required to keep for X amount of number of years, or for another reason.
We took that information that was on the cards in the log book, and then we entered that data into Tracker. We also scanned the actual evidence cards and the log books and uploaded those as digital media into the Tracker system. We kept the cards and the log books, but we’ve actually put those in a box. They’ve been taped up, sealed, and initialed. That way, they can’t be tampered with. So everything, as of today – the old evidence and the new evidence that we currently have – everything is in Tracker.
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We love it. Obviously, the officers love it. They can look at everything. Even in court, if a prosecutor is saying, What is the status on this case? They can log in and say, Well, this evidence was taken to the lab on this day. We’re very pleased with the software here.”
Ben moved to a new slide, “We’re looking at temporary lockers here. So, when they bring stuff in there, they’re going to throw something in a locker and lock that thing up. Is there anything special about that process?”
The Detective said, “No, that part is self-explanatory. The evidence is put into a temp-blocker and locked. We’ve welded four of those doors together, in the event that someone needs to put a long gun or something like that in there.”
Ben laughed and said, “You’ve got to make do with whatever you got, right? You can’t just go out and buy new lockers. Who did the way you did the welding processes?”
The Detective said, “We had public works do that. They’re bolted to the concrete wall there. So, those lockers aren’t going anywhere.”
Ben laughed again and said, “I don’t think anybody’s ever had public works come in and weld some lockers together, but again, you gotta do what you gotta do. So, I’m all for that!”
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