Inventory: A Crucial Part of Evidence Management
January 29, 2020
If you’re trying to decide on a new evidence tracking system, it’s important to find a single source that addresses the critical needs of your particular property and evidence management facility. Simply knowing what you have stored in your evidence facility doesn’t help you to manage the flow of evidence through your agency; there are many more things to consider.
In addition to inventory control; managing evidence requires a system capable of producing an unbreakable chain of custody, providing documentation of evidence movement and transfer, managing the flow of digital evidence, facilitating communication between investigators and property room personnel, automating the disposal approval process and automating accountability functions like audits and inventories. To see how Tracker Products can help, let’s take a look at a success story…
The Carrollton Police Department had organizational and filing issues and disarray in their evidence facility. There were no patterns or structure.
The new supervisor, Shawn Henderson, said, “It was kind of like a jazz composition of storage and I couldn’t work in there, because it drove me crazy. So, one day I realized… we’re going to have to do something drastic to make this change. So I took every piece of evidence off of every shelf, and out of every drawer and I dumped it in the floor. It was about 70,000 items!
I was really proud of myself because it felt like that committed us to reorganization. But, that day, I learned some things about working with people. I went to show a co-worker, Mary – who’d worked there for 10 years before I arrived – how committed we were to this process. We couldn’t look back anymore! For me, it was like ‘Damn the torpedoes full steam ahead moment.’ But, when she saw what I’d done, she just started crying; totally broken by what appeared to be an insurmountable problem. But in hindsight – and I think she would agree – that although it was painful, it did commit us to reorganization.
So, we put barcode labels on packages that didn’t have them before, relabeled some things, and started doing the hard work of getting prepared for the first inventory the law enforcement agency had ever done; in its 50 year existence. After about 3 months, we were ready to start our inventory process.
There were two or three of us working back there with barcode scanners, scanning different locations and putting all this stuff into the system. Then, with Tracker Products, it only took two or three weeks to scan through that first level of evidence for the initial inventory.
Even if you’ve got 70,000 items, if you’ve got the appropriate equipment and good technology – like Tracker Products SAFE software – it’ll take you days or weeks, not months or years. But, again, that’s contingent upon having all the information you need, in a single evidence tracking database.
Unfortunately, after we scanned everything, we realized there were still thousands of items that hadn’t been entered into the system. I think we had like 1200 items that we were just flat unable to locate. We had to go back through old documentation, back through cumbersome log books, back through disposal records; hoping to whittle that list down to zero. Sometimes the data didn’t sync up with the barcode. It was a pretty laborious process to finally account for most of the missing items and get them into the system.”
At Tracker, we typically find that, at the end of an inventory process, well-trained evidence custodians have four lists:
- The things you have
- The items you have, but were in the wrong location (and relocated appropriately)
- Things that you can’t find or account for
- Items you have, but have no idea what case they belong to, or where they should go.
The items on the last bullet point essentially have zero value as evidence. Those types of items – when there’s no label, no known case, and no chain of custody – those become valueless as evidence. So, they are disposed of administratively in the system.
Shawn went on to say, “As part of the inventory process, you begin to reconcile and research to try and get that list down to zero because you want to be 100% accountable for 100% of the items that are in your custody.
Doing the first inventory – after 50 years of neglect – some things had just slipped through the cracks. We found items – that were listed as disposed of – still in our possession for years. We found things that weren’t in the system. We found so many different types of issues that would normally be discovered within a year – if you do an annual inventory – but after 50 years you find 50 years worth of those mistakes and issues and it becomes a massive problem.”
At Tracker, we’ve found that it’s not uncommon for agencies to put off doing an inventory because they perceive it as being a daunting task; especially without evidence tracking software to facilitate the process.
Shawn said, “We continued to whittle away at the items that seemed to have no connection to anything. And, we made sure that everything – including the lack of information – was added into the Tracker Product’s SAFE software system. After everything was labeled, we made the final determination that some things just could not be located.
I wrote a memo to the chief, giving him the entire list of the items that we couldn’t find. I think it was about 300 items, which is huge. But after 50 years, you’re gonna have a large list. Anyway, we requested to close those items administratively, dispose of them, and then we closed the books on them as well.”
RELATED: THE EVIDENCE VAULT THAT TIME FORGOT
The reason an inventory – initial and annual – is important, is because law enforcement is obligated to, and responsible for, everything inside their evidence facility.
If evidence custodians don’t know what they have inside their facility, then they’re really not taking their obligations very seriously. The chain of custody defines credibility. Part of that credibility is based on the willingness to hold themselves accountable for doing things the right way and an evidence inventory is a crucial part of the process.
If you’re curious about whether your current system is helping you manage your evidence, ask yourself five questions:
- How many items do I have stored in my property room right now?
- What’s the total amount of currency stored in my property room right now?
- Have I completed an inventory in the past twelve months?
- How many items do I have slated for disposal right now?
- How many items have I disposed this year?
If you don’t know the answers to these basic questions, or if you have to do anything more than a click on your browser, chances are, you need an evidence management system that puts essential information at your fingertips; in real-time.
Modern police and law enforcement agencies need to collect, access, track, and assess evidence. Tracker has taken full advantage of today’s technology to create the most advanced evidence management software on the market, SAFE.
Along with state-of-the-art barcode tracking, digital and physical data storage, non-amendable chain of custody, and digital signature collection, SAFE also has an intuitive interface to make all of these functions easy to perform. In addition, you can customize this software for even better results. To learn more about Tracker Products, CLICK HERE.
Or, if you’re interested in Evidence Management Training Classes from our sister company, VISIT EMI HERE.
The Boston, Omaha, and St. Louis Police Departments, as well as the United States Department of Justice, Secret Service, and Department of Defense currently track their evidence with SAFE.