Hillview Police Department (KY) Virtual Evidence Room Tour – Part 2
May 24, 2021
In Part 2 of this webinar, Ben Townsend, the founder and CEO of Tracker Products, continued the conversation with Lieutenant Charles McWhirter (left) and Detective Scott Barrow (right) of the Hillview Police Department regarding their outstanding evidence management practices, and to virtually tour their facilities.
Ben said, “Let’s move into the actual evidence room. It’s not a massive evidence room, but what I do like seeing is the uniformity. Do you have anything you want to explain to us about this evidence room?”
The Lieutenant said, “When I took over stuff was piled up from the front to the back. Just imagine things piled up about three feet high, all over the floor and shelves overflowing. So, what we did as part of the accreditation process, was to separate the drugs, money, guns, and high value items.
That’s what is behind the cage there. Because everything in those categories has to be behind two locks. So that fence there is the lock number one, and then there are safes that are behind that gate that act as lock number two.
The other thing that we had to do is get bins for the shelves to separate things. Before, it was just wire baskets and things that were just thrown in there. I wanted clear, see-through bins. That way you can see what’s in there and how full it is.
We may have two bins that are for evidence from 2014, and then the bin next to that may be 2015. So, we’ve kind of separated it up there to try to get some type of organization.
Ben said, “I would say the most critical factor is starting a disposition process. Explain your disposition process and how you go about getting things out of the room.”
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The Lieutenant said, “The way our agency feels is… You caught it, you clean it. So, the officer makes an arrest. They log in evidence. They’re going to have to go to court. It’s their case. That is their evidence.
The evidence custodians are there just to be custodians of the evidence; take them to the lab, etc. It’s not the evidence custodian’s responsibility to follow each and every case through the courts.
So, every six months the custodians will send out a report to each and every officer here that says, Hey, this is all the active evidence that you have currently logged in. You need to check the status of these cases. And if the case has been adjudicated, then you need to write a destruction order or a retain order. Whatever’s applicable for that case and that piece of evidence.
When they submit a destruction order to the evidence custodians. The custodians then will take those down to the prosecutor’s office. They sign off on them and the judge signs them. Once the clerk files those, the officers get a copy and then that evidence can be destroyed.”
Ben said, “You just made a lot of friends out there. You would not believe how many agencies have the opinion that the custodian is not only responsible for custodying the evidence, but they are also responsible for what’s going on with it and checking in with the courts. It’s absolute insanity.
While I like to see a more automated version of what you just described, the fact that you go back to the officer and say: You claim it, you take it. It’s your stuff. You’ve got to answer for it.
Somebody is probably going to take this recording and go back to their boss and say, Hey, look at what this guy is saying. So, you may get a call from somebody asking, Did you really say that? Yes is the answer.
The custodian should not be responsible for disposition. You’ve got to get the officers involved. Imagine if you just went to Scott and said, Hey, you’re in charge of getting rid of all this stuff. It’s just going to pile up and that’s exactly where you were when you started. The officers have got to answer for it because they’re the most knowledgeable ones.
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Somebody is asking a question… Did you write up a policy? Is there something written on that concept, or did you just make the edict and say it out loud?”
The Lieutenant said, “For the accreditation process, we took our old policy manual and threw it out the window. It was very old, very outdated. So yes, it is written in the evidence collection policy that the evidence custodians will give that report every six months to the officers. And the officers have a reasonable amount of time to deal with it. We’re not expecting them to get it done in a week, but a reasonable amount of time to check on it.
Even if a case is still tied up in court, they have to notate that… Hey, this case is still active in the court system. They need to check on every case and provide an update to the custodians.
We’re a 20 man department. Officers within our department wear multiple hats. For example, Detective Scott is a driving instructor, and he’s a detective. He’s actively working cases and he has the property room. He’s one of two custodians. So, to add disposition on top of all of his responsibilities, it’s just not feasible.”
Ben said, “I’m just going to quickly run through these pictures. I want to dig into your packaging and the vacuum sealing. I think that’s what a lot of people are here for. I see things clearly marked biohazard (in the image below). I’m always a big fan of clearly letting people know this is something to be dealt with carefully. Anything you want to throw out about this…?”
The Detective said, “Part of the standard is: Biohazard has to be on the bottom shelf. So, there we’ve got our sexual assault kits, things of that nature. If we need more space, we’ll just continue to work to the right and add more spaces. The bins clearly show that, Hey, these are biohazard bins. If you’re going to get in here, you might want to throw some gloves on.
Ben said, “All right, let’s roll through some more pictures here…”
Ben added, “I love cleaning and organization. I like the clear boxes so that you can see the contents of what’s inside of it. I’m always a big fan of that. I see the log book sitting on the shelf, which is always important. Anything you want to say about this?”
The Detective said, “Me and the other detective work really well together, and we know where things go. We have bins for just electronics, bins for just cell phones, counterfeit money, drug paraphernalia.
We do all of our own test firing for any crime gun that comes in. We submit those casings to be entered. When we get those casings back, we’ve got a bin just for those. So, everything has its own place. Tracker will give me the shelf and location, but if I know that I’m looking for paraphernalia, I already know what bin it’s going to be in.”
Ben said, “By the way, the only way you can pull off having dedicated bins is if your disposition process is going well, and you have room to do those types of things. There’s a lot of people where no disposition is taking place. So the idea of having just a cell phone bin does not exist, because they’re just cramming things into any available spot. So that’s another thing to say… get on top of that disposition process.”
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Ben changed gears and said, “I even see empty bins on the shelf!”
The Detective said, “We have several empty bins. Conservatively, I would say we’re probably at about 40 to 50% capacity inside of our evidence room. So, we do have space to put a lot more things.”
Ben shared two new photos and said, “I see a nice, big safe back here…”
Ben said, “I like the insides of this. Was that built that way? How did you get the gun holsters on, on the side of that safe?”
The Detective said, “This is actually ‘key number two’ that Lieutenant McWhirter referred to. Guns, money, and high-values items have to be behind two keys. The first key was the gate. The second key is the safe.
We actually went to a tractor supply company. We said, Hey, we’re looking for a safe. It’s got to be this size, What can you do for us? They said, This one’s got a small scratch. We’ll give you 30% off. So we said, We’ll take it!
When you’re a small agency, you kind of have to acquire things of that nature. We don’t use those holster pockets on the door. All of our guns – with the exception of the long guns that are sitting on the side of the safe – get boxed up.
Money is double counted. All guns have to be double-checked by two officers and notated in Tracker. If the gun is empty, it gets boxed up. The pockets on the top of the door; that’s all money.”
The Lieutenant added, “See that little gray box on the wall, above the open door (see image above). That gray box on the wall contains the keys to those safes. There’s only two people at this department that have keys to that evidence room and that key box. And that’s both of our evidence custodians. The Chief, myself, and anybody else here do not have access to that.
For a lot of agencies, money is a big deal. Once we get an adjudicated case and we get money that is basically forfeited to our agency, one of the evidence custodians will check out that money, and myself or the Chief will sign for it. Then, myself and the Chief go to the bank and we deposit it at the bank. We do not even compromise the bag until we’re there in the bank, under cameras. Obviously, they have to count it to make sure that there’s an accurate count. Then once we get the deposit slip, we come back, scan that, and it goes into that case as well; to show that we checked out and deposited it. So, it’s just another level of security and accountability to keep everybody honest.”
Ben said, “Let’s, dig into one of the primary focuses of the call here today. Not everybody is doing vacuum-sealing with evidence. So, I’m sure a lot of good is going to come out of this. I even have my own questions about vacuum-sealing, like things that I don’t understand, or maybe even concerns that I would have.
Okay… What we’re looking at here? Are these all drugs? Let me back up… What type of evidence would you vacuum and what would you not vacuum?”
The Detective said, “As of right now, we vacuum seal all drugs. What you’re looking at here – and the picture may make it look a little bit confusing, but that’s actually organized – you’ve got five rows there. From left to right, 2016, 17, 18, 19, and we’re currently on 20, which is the far right side. And everything is in order by case number. The case numbers are in numerical order, by the way the officer enters it.
So, if you give me a case number, I know exactly where it’s going to be. That’s the way we’ve done it with all of our drugs. In some of the lower cabinets, we’ve got larger packages of drugs. But, what you’re seeing in the picture is the smaller packages: bags of marijuana, cocaine, heroin. All of that goes into these cabinets.
And again, it all gets vacuum-sealed, but not before we take it to the state police lab, because they’re just going to break that seal. But, it is double bagged because of the way the officer processed the evidence. As soon as it comes back from the lab, we’re going to run it through just a generic type of food processor…”
The Detective said, “And there it is (above). It’s nothing special. I think we spent 25 or 30 bucks on it, up at Walmart. The big role you see there, we got that on Amazon. That way we could make them for the size that we needed.
There’s eight plants inside that big brown bag (above). We rolled it, we put it inside of a long sleeve and we vacuum-sealed it. There’s absolutely no smell of anything inside this evidence room, because we’re using these vacuum-seals. They also reduce the chance of cross contamination. And, it’s safer for anybody who’s going to have to handle this evidence.”
Ben said, “My first thought, when you mentioned vacuum-sealing, was what happens if there is fentanyl in a package? I mean, ultimately the vacuum-sealing process is sucking air out and displacing that air somewhere else. Is there any concern of releasing fentanyl that would not happen in a normal package?”
The Lieutenant said, “We thought about that process as well. We obviously have a heroin problem here in Louisville. So, we have put NARCAN in each officer’s parole cars in case they encounter fentanyl on the street. We also brought that into our station as well. There is NARCAN in the evidence processing room. But, we also wrote it into our policy that any time a custodian is in that evidence room, they must have NARCAN, gloves, masks – things of that nature – on their person.
If by chance, fentanyl comes out of the double bag system, while they’re doing the vacuum seal, and they begin to feel funny, we do training to let them know what the effects may feel like. That way, they can go ahead and administer NARCAN, get on their radio. and say, Send backup to the evidence room. I believe I’ve just ingested fentanyl, or via transdermal, or any other way that drug can get into the system.”
Ben said, “I have a couple of comments… multiple people have said that you’re not supposed to seal marijuana because it actually causes it to break down into some sort of a dangerous component. It should be in something breathable. Somebody has said it creates a toxic mold. I’ll look into it and once I get the answers, I’ll make a post about that.”
The Detective said, “Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re here to learn too. Maybe we need to change up some of the things that we’re doing here.”
Ben said, “Let me see… What else have you got in here? (see image below) I’m guessing regular drugs and it even has your label on it. There’s possible fentanyl?”
The Detective said, “You see that green line? That’s just the Ziploc baggie that is inside of an evidence bag. Either it came back from the lab or it didn’t need to go to the lab. So, we immediately put it inside a vacuum-seal bag and then seal the entire bag. The label is actually inside that sealed bag. So, there’s no chance of the label coming off and getting displaced.You can still scan right through the plastic.”
Ben said, “Okay, I think that’s all the pictures. Do you have anything you want to say before we sign off?”
The Lieutenant said, “We appreciate you having us on. This is going to be a learning experience for us as well. We’re not perfect. We’re cops, not full-time to evidence custodians. For smaller agencies, with limited budgets sometimes training is limited. But, we’re always looking for ways to improve. So, if anybody has any suggestions, absolutely send that over to us. We work well with others, and we’re willing to share whatever information we have.”
Ben laughed and said, “Just to correct one thing you said… You’re not perfect because you’re cops, you’re not perfect because you’re human. And, so is everybody watching. Regardless of what position you are in this world, there is not perfection.
And listen, it’s a big deal to come on here and, and be willing to open yourself up and have people comment on things. This has been immensely valuable. People are going to get a lot out of it. I appreciate you being willing to open up. I don’t see any more questions coming in, so we’re going to go ahead and wrap it up here today. Again, thank you so much for your 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 nearly 600 other evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.
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