Orange County Sheriff’s Department Evidence Room Tour – Part 2
February 17, 2021
The Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department is a large, multi-faceted law enforcement agency served by approximately 3,800 sworn and professional staff members, and over 800 reserve personnel. In this webinar, James Nally joined Ben Townsend – the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products – to share his best practices with the audience. Although James is not a Tracker client, his contribution to the evidence management community is invaluable.
Ben continued the discussion by saying, “How many years have you been with Orange County?”
James said, “I’ve been with the Sheriff’s department for 27 years and been assigned to evidence for about 23 years now. So, we’ve seen a lot. We’ve seen the change from the DOS type of programming systems – which was just straight tracking – to the evidence management systems that we’re now using. But also, our workload has increased exponentially as well.”
Regarding the screenshot above, James said, “These are things that I enjoy in my job… one of my primary responsibilities is releasing evidence back to owners, or suspects, or whoever is coming in to pick up for that day. I like to troubleshoot some of the more complex things, like reviewing court orders, probate issues, that type of stuff.
It’s really rewarding when you can release, in this case, $12,000 back to a local theater that got burglarized. And, some senior citizens that were on vacation, had all their priceless jewelry taken. The lady on the left here, she’s a Joan Rivers impersonator. A lot of this jewelry that she had was specific to her persona. So, it was really nice to know that we could get that stuff back to her. It doesn’t necessarily make up for all the bad, negative things that we see, but it’s a good feeling.
Ben laughed, “Only in LA, are you going to have a Joan Rivers impersonator.”
James said, “We get them all. We had the ladies from the Real Housewives of Orange County come in a few years back. So yeah, we see a variety of folks.”
About the image above, James said, “This is just an average firearms destruction. It looks like about 2,500 firearms we got rid of on that particular cycle. You see on the lower left corner here, they take them into a facility and they melt them down and the steel was actually earmarked for a local prison in California. So, it seems kind of ironic that guns were being melted to create a prison in California.
Marijuana comes in all shapes and sizes. Up on the left is a grow that we did a few years ago that was in the Newport Coast area; real close to Kobe Bryant’s house. Not to say he had anything to do with it or anything. We [are also showing] some vape cartridges with some heavy-duty THC in it. We even have some edibles over here on the right with the cannabis markings on it. And then you can see some of the larger seizures that we’ve done over the years. And the package that I’m holding here in this picture was sent through the mail. So, nobody would find that you know? It’s still illegal to send marijuana through the mail, just in case anybody’s looking at doing that.
Here’s something that you don’t see every day. That’s why I throw it into this training. This about a gallon bottle of GHB – the date rape drug. It’s actually about half full, but it is transdermal and you can become affected by touching it. So, we want to ensure that it doesn’t leak and that’s why the deputy put it inside of a plastic bag. Then that gets placed into a containment bucket, vermiculite gets poured in – which is like a kitty litter absorbent – in the event that it leaks over time. And then we would seal the top of that bucket, and put some evidence seals on it, and take it straight to the lab. That’s what our crime lab mandates for this type of evidence.
Fentanyl. Something we love to talk about. It’s not every day that you see several kilos of straight, pure, uncut fentanyl. Right now, today, we have probably over 230 pounds of fentanyl in all different types of form. We’ve seen it come in looking like tar heroin. We’ve seen it in counterfeit pills. We actually have about 17,000 lethal doses of ecstasy pills, or counterfeit ecstasy pills, that have a lethal dose of fentanyl in each pill. We believe that the person was not getting his recipe down. He put a little too much in each pill.
It was stuff like that, that we’ve seen on a consistent basis come through our evidence stream. So, you have to be very careful… which leads me to Narcan. We have Narcan all over. In your kit, when you go to the crime lab. Narcan all the time. It potentially changes the way you do business.
If you transport your narcotics to a crime lab, you should consider having maybe two people keeping it in a sealed container to transport back and forth to the lab. We don’t carry them anymore. We roll them on a cart. So, we’ve taken a lot of considerations because of the exposure that we’ve had within our department.”
Ben said, “Hey James, I’m curious, do you have any sort of a Narcan policy or did you just implement that and say, Hey, we’re going to have them?”
James said, “We do have a written policy now. I mean, a lot of this fentanyl based protection was from our crime lab, and our crime lab really leaned on everybody. They leaned on the DA, they leaned on our Sheriff. Our Sheriff is a big advocate for protection and knowledgeable about fentanyl.”
Ben said, “If I remind you later, would you be able to post that policy on the Evidence Management Community page so that people who are asking can have a copy of your Narcan policy?”
James said, “I always have to run stuff through public affairs, but yeah, I’d be happy to. I don’t think there’s anything that’s exceptionally confidential. If there are agencies that are seeing fentanyl in their evidence stream, and you’re still doing field testing – meaning your officers are out there are doing NIC testing, in kits with a little bit of the powder – please, please, try to get something passed through your county, or your city, to forego the field testing process. And I do have some memos that I’m able to share, that talk about what we’ve done in order to forgo the field testing process.
Our coroner’s office thought that we had an exceptionally high amount of heroin overdoses in 2016, 2017. And, they were never testing for fentanyl. Once, they found some other product at a death scene, and they did a little deeper check-in. They realized that fentanyl is a major issue. So, for agencies that think they don’t have a fentanyl problem, it’s perhaps because their crime lab’s not testing for that.
I think now we’re in a state where everybody is looking at that and they’re testing for it because it’s so deadly. We want to ensure that whatever we believe to be in narcotics, we treat all the same in our packaging method, our storage methods, and, in our field testing methods as well.
Narcan doesn’t have a very long shelf life. Especially when they’re in the patrol vehicles; it’s heat sensitive. We need to replace them like every three to five months. So, we’re constantly replacing the Narcan.
If folks haven’t seen it before, it’s just a small nasal spray. It’s a super simple class to go through. It tells you how to identify when someone’s fallen out from an exposure and how to administer the Narcan properly. There’s really no way to mess it up. You know, once they go out, you just use the nasal spray, and spray it in the nose and hope they come back. Then you can get lifesaving people there as soon as possible.”
James continued the slide show saying, “Alright….This is my favorite part of dealing with narcotics… the destruction of it. This is a location [above] where we take our narcotics. They mix it in with a bunch of trash and it gets disposed of. There are two regulated EPA locations sites throughout California that we’re authorized to take this to. It’s an easy way to get rid of it. They use the jaws to pick up the pallets of narcotics for destruction.
The Sheriff’s department has a lot of resources. So, we use our Humvees for search and rescue and community programs for education for the kids. We have several helicopters, and then we even have the little buggy. A lot of stuff we acquire from the military.
This was just an example of the technology that we’re working on right now. Everybody’s required to carry their ID card at work. It has a magnetic strip, and in the future, we’ll be able to scan the ID card, and then scan the other person when you transfer the evidence via the peripheral device. That would become essential when you go out to a large crime scene and you collect and book over a hundred items. You’ll be able to transfer all those items from one person to the other. Just ideas that we’re trying to foster for the future.”
Ben said, “When you hear of a problem, or you’re in a situation where there doesn’t seem to be an answer to it, you seem to go to technology as the fix to that. Is that a fair assessment of how you operate?”
James said, “Well, not just me. I mean, there are 13 other people in this unit that come up with great ideas all the time. And I want to make sure that we all share the credit. Having a good working relationship with our folks has enabled us to create things for something we can’t fix or come up with something we can do better. We’ll have a quick team meeting just to make sure it doesn’t step on someone else’s toes and then move forward with that. We’ve had to back out of a few ideas that didn’t work out. Sometimes things are just too complex and you can’t do it.”
Ben said, “The Orange County Sheriff’s office is using a software product that they built internally. When they do come up with an idea, they’ve got some resources that they can go to and say, How do we make this thing work? And, that is a little more difficult for the general person out there.”
James said, “Yeah. I mean, we have a great relationship with our IT unit, and I think they do an amazing job, seeing both sides of the lockers, working on the sworn side and the civilian side. It’s always a good mix because you know how things work on both sides. So, you’re able to come up with something that works for both sides.”
Ben said, “With all the technology you’ve dealt with, what is the most important thing you’ve implemented that has had the biggest impact on your operation? I know I’m speaking very broadly, but if you can think of something specific that you would say, We did this and it had a massive impact on what we did… what would that answer be?”
James said, “I think the mobile evidence system has really helped us because, if nothing else, it shows the rest of the department that we follow through on our mission. Our mission is a support service function, and anything we can do to improve upon that mission: whether it’s the booking kiosk, mobile evidence, teaching classes on how to book. We’re trying to stay as involved and connected as possible with our deputies, our investigators, and anyone in the department that has an interest in knowing about evidence.”
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 recordings here, or – to get in on the discussion – join the Evidence Management Community Forum.
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