How to “Move” Your Evidence Room – Part 2
December 7, 2021
In this evidence management webinar, Ben Townsend, Founder and CEO of Tracker Products, discusses how to “move” your evidence room with Beth Bennett. Topics include:
Are Chain of Custody records required for a move?
What to avoid when “moving” evidence
What to accomplish when “moving” evidence
Examples of good moves
***Featured Guest, Beth Bennett
Ben began the webinar by saying, “As always, I like to encourage evidence custodians to join the Evidence Management Group on Facebook. It’s unbelievable. 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. So, do yourself a favor and please join… and participate!”
Ben continued the webinar by saying, “Considerations…I really want to dig into this with Beth, because I think it would be helpful for everyone watching.”
Ben suggested the following considerations,“What are you going to use for temporary storage if you’re moving? Are you gonna use Conex boxes, or are you going to use whatever may be sitting out in the back of your building? As for proper protection and security… you’ve got to make sure this stuff is locked down and secure as can possibly be. Make sure video cameras are around. You want video cameras everywhere.
There is a difference between putting a Conex box in the back of your building where it’s inside a gated area. There are patrol cars, there are people coming in and out, there’s security everywhere. There’s a guard at the door. That is different than… I just parked at the school down the road, put a lock on it, but nobody’s watching it.
You want to make sure that access is also controlled and camera surveillance video is being recorded. We live in a world now where video and recording are easier and cheaper than it’s ever been. If you’re moving an evidence room and you don’t have cameras in there, get cameras. Actually, somebody in our company said taser cameras are now everywhere. If you’ve got somebody dealing with evidence, make them wear a body cam and record everything they’re doing. Why would you not? That’s an easy thing to employ when you’re going through the process of moving.
Okay. I’ve been doing all the talking now and I want to bring Beth in so that she can share a little bit of her story. So… Beth, why don’t you walk us through some of the basics. I’ll ask some questions and lead you down the road a little bit. Tell me about your evidence room and what you went through to move.”
Beth said, “You can see (in the image above) that our evidence room was a little bit crazy. We just had so much evidence and not enough space. We were able to get funding for mobile shelving, so in order to get that in there, we had to take absolutely everything out of the evidence room, for them to be able to install them.
So, what we did was, using a dolly, box by box we took everything. We had a pod that we kept in a gated area at RPD that we put everything into. I think we had that for like a month or two while they installed the mobile shelving. And then, we brought everything back in. So, it was quite a project.”
Ben said, “A couple of questions here. Beth, before you did this move, how much oversight did you have? Meaning, did somebody tell you what to do, or did you come up with the process of the pod in the back of the building?”
Beth said, “My supervisor at the time was amazing. I absolutely loved him. He was a great mentor. So, he helped as much as he could, but for the most part, everything – like trying to get the funding for it – I pretty much did all of that. It was all on me. He would help when I had questions, but as far as going out for bids and deciding who I wanted, all of those were things that I did.”
Ben said, “One of the things I wanted Beth to talk about – and I understand you’re exposing yourself just a little bit – is… When you were moving everything into that pod, is there anything you would do differently, looking back?”
Beth said, “Absolutely. I didn’t track the changes as far as the move. It was pretty much in the pod. I kept everything in the same boxes or locations. So, I never created those transactions that went into the pod or when they went back into the property room. I just kind of assumed that location was the same. But really, it wasn’t.
That’s something that I absolutely would recommend doing differently. Looking back, the proper way would have been to scan everything out, and then scan it all back. You can make the pod the parent location, and then you would still have individual locations within that. You should at least document that move and that’s not something that I did. I see now that I should have.”
Ben said, “Is this your entire evidence room gutted and cleaned out?”
Beth said, “Yes. On the right (in the image above and on the left in the image below) is our safe and our refrigerator. In order for the outside contractors that we used to be able to get into the police agency, they had to be fingerprinted and things like that. But, to secure the things that I could not move out – which was the safe and the refrigerator – we taped, initialed, and dated, to make sure it was fine.”
Ben said, “So, that last photo was one view of the evidence room. This is the other side…”
Ben said, “Actually that stuff didn’t leave either. Is that your property room back there?”
Beth said, “When I got here, the gate went up and it separated the supplies from evidence. I was in charge of evidence, supplies, uniforms, office supplies, all of that. So, we separated that from the evidence, and we did not have to move those things out because those were not evidence.”
Ben said, “So you gutted the entire room, they put in all the mobile shelving units, and…”
Beth said, “That was me. While they were being very loud, I would wear the headphones.”
Ben said, “Anything else you want to say that you learned from that move?”
Beth said, “Now, working for Tracker and dealing with SAFE, our evidence management software, the importance of recording those transactions is so clear. I feel like we’re always learning things and that’s something that I would have done differently. Other than that, I felt like it went pretty smoothly. I mean, it’s a huge undertaking, that’s for sure.”
Ben said, “I do have a couple of comments and questions rolling in now. One of the people watching said that when they moved their evidence room – because they had a fire in the building – they did something similar to you.
They moved everything out to Conex boxes, which were outfitted with door locks, padlocks, and interior gate cameras and alarms. They even completed a full inventory before the move and after the move. They even documented chain of custody as a part of every record. So, that actually might be going a step further than what I’m even recommending.”
Beth said, “Now, that’s the method that I would recommend as well. I tried to inventory absolutely everything right before the move, but there were a couple locations that I did not get done before we put it out in the pod.
But, like Ben had said earlier, I was doing inventories monthly. So I mean, it wasn’t like we hadn’t inventoried the property – that I couldn’t get done right before the move – in years. Within that year, it would have already been inventoried.”
Ben said, “Here’s a really, really good question! Jonathan, thanks for asking this question because people are going to want to know this. When you move all of this stuff into some secondary storage, the question becomes: Do I check this stuff out and then into the pod or do I just do a move on it?
The reason that question is so very important is because one is two transactions, the other is a single transaction. I think I’m going to broadly address what I believe the answer is to this. It really matters if the evidence is changing hands.
So, in your scenario, my guess is that you are taking the evidence out to the unit and you’re putting it in there. In that case, I would think a single move transaction would be fine.
However, if you had some really off the wall scenario, or I’ll even suggest something that’s not off the wall… I’m transferring evidence via one of my officers to the crime lab. Well, if there are multiple people involved in that process, you should have multiple checkpoints to make sure it’s being done correctly. So, in that scenario, you would check it out and then check it into the other person. So, I think the answer of what you’re looking for – Beth, you can tell me if you agree with that or not – is rooted in how many people are touching it. And, if it’s more than one, there should be a transaction for every person.”
Beth said, “Yes, I would say so. If you have multiple people in the property room that are moving evidence into temporary storage and then moving it back, that would still just be a move. Because, when you’re creating those moves in the software, it’s going to show which person did it.
If you’re taking it to another location completely, and another agency is going to have possession of it for any amount of time, then I would absolutely say it would need to be checked out. But, if you were moving items to a location within your agency, whether that be outside in a pod or an annex, or something like that, I think that would still be a move transaction, in my opinion”
Ben said, “I agree. I think the important thing you said is that it’s going to record who did that transaction. So, I’m fine if three or four people are involved in the move, but that chain of custody should indicate this specific person at this specific time, did the transaction. Because, if I’ve got cameras recording, I want to be able to line that up with: Here’s the date and time that this thing occurred.
That’s the other thing, this stuff should be taking place in real time. I certainly don’t think you go in at nine o’clock the night before the move, and say, I’m going to scan all of these items tonight, so that tomorrow, when the people are here, we could just do this quicker.
We could just do it quicker? That is where the problems come into play. This stuff should be done in real time. It is so important to have a proper chain of custody on this stuff.”
Ben changed gears and said, “Here’s what the evidence room looked like after…”
Ben said, “So, here’s an old picture…”
Ben said, “What do you notice right off the bat? Man, the light is so much better! Beth, outside of having mobile shelving, what do you think were the biggest perks of having all of this done?”
Beth said, “Just the amount of space that you get from the mobile shelving and the organization! You wouldn’t think it from the old pictures, but I’m a bit of an organizational freak. So, that disorganization was killing me. With the mobile shelving, how organized you can make things and the amount of space that you get… I really loved it.”
Ben said, “I was going to say, anybody that picks up an evidence room that is an organizational freak, I think the best answer is just take everything out and bring it back in, in an orderly fashion. When I look at these pictures, everything looks so clean.”
Ben said, “I’m sure for people that are stuck in old evidence rooms that might look more like what yours did, this is a massive improvement.”
Ben said, “Okay. So Beth, the question that is being asked now, from Tom, is: How long did it take you to do all of this? Do you remember roughly how many pieces of evidence were in your evidence room?
Beth said, “Typically we had between 10 and 13,000 from what I remember. And, I think we had the pod for two months, but we actually only used it for probably five or six weeks. So, it wasn’t a terribly long period of time. I’m sure it felt like that in the middle of it.
And, like I said, prior to the date where we had to have everything out, I was running around like crazy trying to do inventories of absolutely everything just to cover my bases. It was very time consuming. All in all, it probably was three or four months. But, the actual time being out of the property room was probably only like five or six weeks.”
Ben said, “That’s not too bad. Did this process of moving everything out and moving it back in shine a light on any problem or was everything as copacetic as you expected?”
Beth said, “I don’t think so. I’d been in the property room for years. So, I probably had learned many of the things that I needed to by that point. Even though it does look pretty unorganized, I was doing inventories. So, I was finding any issues well before that took place.”
Ben said, “I’m sure there are people on here when they look at your old evidence room and you use the words disorganized mess. They’re probably laughing and thinking, You think that’s a mess? Let me show you a mess.
It certainly wasn’t as nice as before you got the mobile shelving units, but from what I’ve seen messages…. You’ve got nothing sitting on the floor, so you’re not allowed to use the word mess.”
Ben switched gears and asked, “How long have you been gone from Raytown now?”
Beth said, “I left in October of 2018.”
Ben said, “So, you’re coming up on three years now. Somebody is asking, Did you have Narcan in your evidence room anywhere?”
Beth said, “No, I never did. But again, I pretty much had to advocate for everything in that property room. I’m sure, like a lot of people in the property room know, you’re kind of down on the totem pole. So, unless you’re the squeaky wheel, things probably aren’t really happening. In reality, I don’t know that I completely understood the importance of it at the time. So no, I didn’t.”
Ben said, “The person that asked that question was James Nally. James is our Narcan guy; he’s out there teaching everyone about it. So, he said, Be a squeaky wheel and get 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.