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 How to “Move” Your Evidence Room – Part 1 

December 1, 2021

In this evidence management webinar, Ben Townsend, Founder and CEO of Tracker Products,  discusses how to “move” your evidence room.  Topics include:

Ben began the webinar by saying, “A couple of notes before we get the ball rolling… As I always like to point out, the Evidence Management Group on Facebook is unbelievable. I would highly recommend that you go there and get membership into that group. There’s no cost, we just add you in. If you’ve got questions, comments, thoughts, or things you want to bounce off of (nearly 700) people in the evidence world, that’s the place to go!

I am constantly amazed at the chatter that’s taking place in the community group. If you’ve got a question, it’s the first place to go. You will get responses from lots of people all over the country. I’m seeing stuff posted in there all the time. So, it is a really, really good source for people in the evidence management community. 

Also, the Evidence Management Institute (referenced in italics above) does FREE Evidence Management Training as well as their own webinars. They cover a wide, and different, range of topics than we typically cover. So, it’s another place that you can go to check out some other great information. 

If you want to check out a little bit more about Tracker Products’ Total Evidence Management Solution, we talk about how we can save you time and space… The primary commodities of evidence management. 

We also have a FREE online Evidence Management Health Check. If you want to know a little bit more about your evidence room and whether or not you are as good as you think you are, be sure to take that quiz. It’ll give you a report with an initial assessment of how well your operation is running.

Okay, the housekeeping tips are over and I would like to make a quick introduction… Beth was a panelist member of mine way back when we first started doing these webinars, and I’ve asked her to come back. The topic that we’re discussing today, she definitely has experience with. 

She’s going to share a few of her war stories; some of the good things and the bad things that she did when she was moving her evidence room. Glad you could be here with us today, Beth. 

I appreciate your willingness to expose your struggles a little bit. Maybe we should call this episode, The Things You Learned. Maybe you didn’t do everything the best way possible, but I appreciate you for being willing to come on and share some of your input. You’re different than I am. You worked in an evidence room. 

The title of our webinar today was titled, How to Move Your Evidence Room. I’ve relabeled it, How to PROPERLY Move Your Evidence Room. I believe that most evidence people want to do a good job. They work really hard to do a good job, and they would not readily admit that they cut corners.

In fact, most evidence administrators that I know are a specific type of personality and they sort of recoil a little bit at the idea of cutting corners. But there is something about this process of moving evidence that all of a sudden will make people think, I can cut corners a little bit. I will see corners being cut because: it takes too much time, it’s difficult, and all the things that go into that. So, I am definitely going to present a case today of how I think you should properly move an evidence room… the right way.

Let’s just make sure we’re on the same page about what moving is. I’ve actually got two definitions of what I think moving is. The first is a very broad definition, moving your evidence from one facility to another, or maybe even to a new room within your existing facility. I think that’s what most people probably think of. 

But, I would argue, at a much more finite level, moving evidence from one storage location to another is also moving evidence. If I have evidence on shelf one and are moving it to shelf two, I deem that to be moving evidence too. 

The problem we usually run into, is people are great with the finite example of it. But, when we get into the broad definition of it, all of a sudden, that’s where they freeze. 

The second thing we want to talk about is the root job of somebody in the evidence room…  Chain of Custody. It is the buzzword that most describes what we do in our world. I asked Shawn Henderson from the Evidence Management Institute (EMI) to weigh in on this. He’s the director, so he does a lot of training all across the country. The EMI website has policies and procedures, and they train people to do things the right way. 

So when it comes to this, I asked him, What is the right definition? EMI states that movement of evidence should include a chain of custody entry. Even if that movement is from one storage location to another, within your evidence room. Using this guidance, you should absolutely have chain of custody records for all items that are moved from one room or facility to another, or from shelf one to shelf two.

There’s not a lot of wiggle room within that definition. It’s pretty straight forward. If you’re moving evidence, and you agree with the statement about chain of custody, those are two really foundational principles right there. However, the detractors will argue it is, Too much work to scan every item to record chain of custody movement when I’m moving 10,000 items. The amount of work that is required to do that is staggering. It’s just too much. 

Now, I want to say this next part kindly, but I also want to be very bold in my statement. I don’t think it’s too harsh to suggest that the primary job of an evidence custodian is to ensure the valid chain of custody for each piece of evidence. If you do not record this movement, you are simply failing at your primary role and potentially subjecting your agency to failed audits

Yes, I know that is a very strong statement. I hope I didn’t offend anybody by making the statement, but that doesn’t mean that’s not true. In fact, I would say if you asked the chief, or the sheriff, or your boss, about your primary role as an evidence custodian, would they agree with that statement? I think they would. 

It almost always takes more time and effort to do things the right way. But, if you don’t do it this way, when you undergo an audit and somebody finds out that you’ve taken shortcuts… all of a sudden you’ve exposed yourself. And then, you may be unemployed at that point in time. 

So, here are some of the things that I will see people doing to cope with the amount of time that it takes. In a minute, we’re going to dig into what I think is the right way to do it. For now, I’m going to show you things that I see being done that are definitely the wrong way.

The first one is a blind transaction. What do I mean by that? Some will record chain of custody for each item, but they’ll use built in automation like our software to do a blind transaction. This is a transaction where chain of custody is recorded, but a scan of the item is not completed.

Most evidence management applications will allow you to go into the software and do searches. And you may be able to bring up a list of 5,000 items and then run a single transaction against 5,000 items. And you may be able to say, I’m moving this evidence from this room to the other room in one simple transaction, but you did not scan every individual item. Is that quicker? You may be able to do it within seconds, or a minute, versus how long it would take you to scan and move 5,000 items.

Here’s the reason that is a really, really bad idea. If an item ever shows up missing, there will be a chain of custody record indicating it was moved. Therefore, it will be assumed that that item did make the transition, when it might not have. Now, imagine that you do this blind transaction and someday down the road, something shows up missing. 

If they look at the chain of custody, it’s going to say, They moved it on this date and time. How are you going to feel when you have to go back and say, Well, yes, it does say that. But, all I did was go in and select 5,000 items in one fell swoop and move them all. So, everything got moved. And they’re going to be like, What did you do?

The fact that you had to explain that you did a blind transaction to somebody, they’re immediately going to know that doesn’t feel right. All of a sudden they’re going to think, Did anything get scanned? So, that’s a bad deal. 

The next one we see is what I call a straight move. You don’t record the chain of custody. You just pick a storage location and up and move the whole thing to the new building. 

You might argue that you didn’t even touch the evidence. Maybe you literally rolled the shelving unit from one place to the other; the evidence was not even touched. Okay. What some people will argue is, I’m just doing a straight move of all this stuff. I don’t need to scan and redo everything because the location structure is not changing. I understand the building is changing. But, the location structure is not changing. 

It is possible that moving from one evidence room to the other, your storage locations don’t change. You may literally just roll the shelves into the new building, and nothing changed about it. But, the operation failed because the chain of custody was not recorded. 

So, what about mobile shelving? This is what Beth is going to talk about in just a moment. She was actually not moving her evidence room. She had a third option…reorganizing her entire evidence room. In her scenario, she moved everything out of the room into a mobile storage unit. At some point later, she moved everything back into the evidence room.

You might think, in that scenario, the locations did not change. In fact, the room didn’t even change. But, as Beth is going to point out in a moment, you still have to comply with chain of custody. Everything should be recorded for any movement that is taking place. So, even in that scenario, you still need to follow the protocol of moving the stuff into a new location (a mobile storage unit), and moving it back. 

At a really simple level, let me show you what I think this looks like, especially if you’re using evidence management software. I’m showing you what is an unbelievably simplistic version of an evidence room. There is no way your evidence room is this basic.  

Basically, I’ve got three storage locations shelf one, two, and three in what I call New Locations.

And then I have shelf one, two and three in what I call Old Locations. So, if you’re using evidence management software, my guess is every one of them is going to allow some sort of a setup like this. 

Okay. I want to segment all the old stuff from all the new stuff. Then I would create a new storage location called New Room/New Locations. And, I would build out an entirely new structure underneath that. So what does that mean? That means you’re rebuilding all of your storage locations, but I believe that when you move evidence, even if the structure is the exact same thing, it was in the old evidence room, you should build out a new location structure with all new locations.

In fact, you may have to retag them. You may even have to put new barcode labels on them because they are new storage locations, they’re in a new building. To move that evidence, it would force you to scan every barcode on every item that is moving. But there’s a really large benefit to doing that – a full inventory is completed. 

For example, let’s say you have 5,000 items in the old room location – spread out amongst however many storage locations you have – if you only move 4,942 items, your old storage locations are going to indicate there are still 58 there.

The point that I’m making… by moving all of your evidence from the old, to the new, not only are you getting a chain of custody entry, but you are doing a full blown inventory at the same time. You may be like Beth, where you’re doing inventories all the time. I know my evidence is spot on. 

I would still say, you need to move this evidence, in batches, and scan every barcode so that if something is wrong, you are not recording chain of custody in an incorrect way. That’s the shortcut that most people will want to take… I don’t want to scan every barcode for every item that is painful. It takes time. I’m simply saying recording a bad chain of custody is just bad.

So, the primary benefits of doing it the right way is: Chain of custody is recorded. You are complying with evidence best practices and standards. And, you have completed a full inventory when it is all said and done. 

RELATED: INVENTORY – A CRUCIAL PART OF EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT

Anything that’s left in the old locations needs to be dealt with. Maybe it was just an accident that you didn’t scan it. Maybe it did get moved. But, what you’ve got to avoid is that your chain of custody says you’re moving evidence, that’s not actually being moved. That’s a bad deal. 

So, here are some other bad ideas I want to talk about before we jump in and talk about Beth’s move: Hiring movers with unsupervised access. Most people are probably not having to deal with that. If you’re moving an evidence room, you’re probably cringing at the fact that you’ve got to do all the work yourself on the weekends and you don’t have any help.

So, the idea of hiring movers with unsupervised access is not something you’re dealing with, but you wouldn’t just invite anybody to your evidence room on a normal day. You certainly would not bring in unsupervised people. 

You would not necessarily just go, Dump Stuff in a Connex Box Outside your building. That’s a bad idea. You’ve got to ask questions about that Connex box. Is it secure? Is it as secure as if it was in my evidence room? That answer is probably no. So, you absolutely have to go through the protocol to find out, Is that thing secure? Or am I just looking for the most convenient thing?

I promise you if somebody were to find out that you’re dumping evidence into an unsecure location – even if you put a lock on it – it creates a little bit of doubt. I say that all the time in the world of evidence… We’re not trying to prove somebody wrong, we’re trying to create doubt; which I think I’m just largely describing the defense process all the time. They don’t need to be right. They just need to create doubts. 

Okay. We don’t want those blind moves. We don’t want straight moves. We do not want to fail to record the chain of custody. If you’re going to bring doubt into your system, it’s moving stuff around and not recording chain of custody. And, the last bad idea is you get fired because you took shortcuts and we just don’t want that. It’s just not worth all of that and creating all the problems that go along with it.”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 700 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.