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Preparing for an Evidence Room Audit – Part 2

April 29, 2021

In this webinar, Ben Townsend, the founder and CEO of Tracker Products, invited Shawn Henderson, the Executive Director of the Evidence Management Institute, onto the show to discuss best practices when preparing for an audit. 

As a former police officer and supervisor, Shawn developed a curriculum, created policies and procedures, and provided training across multiple disciplines throughout his career. Now, his mission is to elevate evidence management practices, via training and consulting across the industry.

evidence room audit

As the webinar continued, Shawn said, “I think a good question to ask yourself – in terms of how healthy you are as an agency – is, If you left tomorrow, would your agency be able to accomplish your job the next day? And, how replaceable are you? Do you have policies and procedures in place? Do you have people trained to take your place and step into the gap for you when you’re gone? 

Will this system outlive you or do you have the kind of system that requires a mystical body of knowledge that’s only contained the brain of one humanoid? Do you have this Yoda-like presence at your agency? And if Yoda dies, all the Jedi’s die. I realize the metaphor is getting stretched a little thin here, but you don’t want that as an agency. 

A good agency is going to be prepared for succession. And a good auditor will help you create an environment in your agency that is set up to be sustainable. 

The last three things that you can really do to prepare yourself for an audit – and be in a position to take full advantage of an audit – is: 1) absorb as much training as you possibly can. I understand that is difficult right now, because people aren’t having training classes. And even if there were training classes available, your agency might not let you go to training because you’re already working understaffed or half-staff. But there are other types of training opportunities that are available. 

I mean, there are training classes online. You can go to our website and there’s a seven hour or eight hour free training class that we offer online for evidence managers. You can take part in that. You can also listen to as many webinars and videos as you can find. 

When this pandemic is over, seek out those training opportunities and learn as much as you possibly can. Also, talk with other people. I mean, back in March 2020, when the world shut down, we started a Facebook Evidence Management Community Forum to get evidence managers talking to one another. 

Whether you’re connecting on the Facebook community forum or whether it is an organization like TAPEIT in Texas, or MAPE in Missouri, or CAPE in  California, you need to get involved.

Getting evidence custodians together, and talking to each other, is critically important. So, get involved in whatever association is available in your area, because that information is irreplaceable. 

Back to audits… The best way to prepare yourself for an audit is just to commit to doing it. If you can’t have somebody come in, if you can’t partner with anybody, if you haven’t built those relationships yet, it’s really about compliance.

You can audit yourself. It’s not as transparent as having an independent observer along with you, but that process is something that you should be doing on a daily basis. Ask yourself, are we in compliance? And the more times you ask yourself that question and get to where the answer is yes, you’ll be continually improving your operations. 

You’d be surprised by how many agencies don’t have a policy in place to do annual inventories of all the property and evidence. So, we need to do one or two things with that information: We either need to direct resources to be able to do what we say we do, or we need to change that policy to where there is congruency. 

RELATED: INVENTORY – A CRUCIAL PART OF EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT

Because, when there is incongruity between what we say and what we do in the trade, we call that a lie. And we don’t want to be in the business of that. We want to be able to accomplish the policy-specific goals that are set out for us, and an audit can help you get there.”

Ben said, “So tell me what, give me your 2 cents on what you think about CALEA.  I hear the name CALEA all the time when it comes to property and evidence auditing, what do you think about them?”

Shawn said, “They’re a great organization. Our agency was a CALEA accredited agency for a while. We went away from a CALEA accreditation because the cost of it was pretty high. And we had other things that we needed to spend our money on. I think that their accreditation process is a good one. 

When you hold yourself accountable to an outside agency, that’s a good thing. The downside is the CALEA process is global. It covers police operations from stem to stern. It doesn’t go very deeply into any one area. It goes very broadly into all areas. So, if your agency is judging their effectiveness in evidence management, based on their compliance with CALEA standards, those standards are pretty low to pass. 

You want to set a higher standard for yourself. You want to find a body of best practices and standards that actually address real-world evidence issues. As evidence managers, we want to go beyond CALEA accreditation standards because they’re not designed to make you more efficient, or make you more effective, or make you more sustainable.”

Ben added, “I think what you’re talking about there is similar to the difference between an RMS software system and software that is designed specifically for evidence management. RMS systems are designed just to do enough with evidence management that you can tick off the basic boxes, but it’s not designed to handle the real depth of it. 

So, I think what Shawn is saying there is critical. You want something that’s going to push you further than your level of comfort. You want something that is going to dig into the depth of what’s going on so that you can help avoid the bigger problems that could be coming.” 

Ben changed gears and said, “All right… we’re getting some questions rolling in. Somebody asked the question, Are there any free options when it comes to auditing and who can do an audit if I wanted one?

I’m really setting us up for you, Shawn. So, get your baseball bat cocked and ready to go here.” 

Shawn said, “Yeah,  that’s low hanging fruit. I’m biased because I think I’m particularly good at this. I will tell you first about a free resource. I think that this is a great place to start. I’ve developed a free E-Health self evaluation; something you can do on your own. That is kind of like a mini audit. It asks some very specific questions about your agency. 

It’s all online, it’s all done automatically, and it will create a lengthy report for you that you can use to evaluate your agency. If you want to learn more about that process, you may want to watch the webinar that describes the E-health Check. That’s a good self audit tool. It’ll give you a good baseline of how you’re doing and maybe that’s all you need to get started. If you’re looking for someone that can do a full-scale comprehensive stem to stern audit of your evidence operations. I do them. So give me a call, or visit our website evidence management.com.” 

Ben added, “Shawn’s in the middle of one right now, and it is a giant audit that involves a very significant amount of information, but he does audits for small organizations too.”

Shawn said, “There’s always room for more. I love the audit process. I look at it as a problem solving tool. My goal when I go in is… I want to help this agency become better. I want to improve operations, not only for them, but for everybody the agency interfaces with.”

Ben said, “We have a good question that’s just come in. How much time should an audit take and how long should a full inventory be expected to take? 

I know you can’t give an exact answer on that, but give us some of the framework?”

Shawn said, “There are so many factors that go into it. There isn’t a one size fits all answer here because agencies are an economy of scale. I’ve done audits for small agencies that took two days. I always do two site visits when I’m doing an audit: an inspection and an audit. I really feel like you need some time on the ground. You need to get your hands in there and see the operations. You have an understanding before you really make any evaluations or make too many presumptive recommendations. 

The audit process that I’m doing right now, it’s a very large agency. We’re going to spend a week on the ground in that area, doing an inspection process, becoming familiar with their operations, taking some measurements, looking at their storage facility,  running some numbers, reading the policy. And then we’re going to go back a few weeks after that and do an actual audit process; where we’re looking at packages. 

For a huge agency like that, we should be able to turn the thing around in six to eight weeks. That’s from the first site visit to a finalized report with recommendations. For smaller agencies, it’s a much faster turnaround. You spend a couple of days on the ground, you get a baseline for evaluation, then you come back and do the audit. 

There are some auditors that will only make one visit to your agency. And if that’s their process, and they’re able to accomplish that, great. Just remember, sometimes the reports take a while to get back.

For an inventory process, if you’ve got a great evidence management system, and you’re using appropriate technology, a complete inventory of a property room – depending on the number of items that you’ve got – should only take a couple of days. Even if you’ve got a significant amount of property – like 60,000 pieces of evidence – depending on how organized you are, how your evidence is labeled, and the technology that you use, you should still be able to do that over time; certainly within the calendar year.”

Ben added, “Historically, I’ve seen some people – using our system – they can scan a thousand pieces of evidence in about an hour to an hour and a half. So, scale that out from there. But, the evidence management system is critical to the process. 

I’m not talking about opening every package and doing a full blown audit. I’m talking about scanning the barcodes on all the items. You should be able to pour through that very quickly. And, back to Shawn’s point from earlier…  we see very few people doing inventories on all their evidence every year.

I’m continually astonished by how few people are doing inventories. They just don’t have time because they’re doing other things. That’s, in part, where an audit would come into play. For example, Shawn would look at whether you’re spending too much time on evidence intake. Which means you don’t have time to do inventories and the other stuff on the back end.”

Shawn said, “Before we were on an evidence management system, we went through an audit, and an inventory process. Most of it was manual. We were able to scan some things, but honestly, most of that first inventory process is going to be painful. 

It took us months because we were with paper and pen printing lists and checking things off. That is a miserable, time consuming process. Some of the agencies that I work with will ask, How long should it take for me to do an inventory? The answer is… You can’t physically do an inventory with human beings in the way that you’re presently constituted. It just can’t be done without evidence management software.”

RELATED: EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE VERSUS PEN AND PAPER

Ben added, “I don’t know if the audience caught it earlier, but when Shawn was talking about being at Carrollton PD, one of his major objectives – and the reason he and I met – was because they needed to get an evidence management system in place. 

That was part of his vision. If you go back and listen to my last webinar about having vision, Shawn was very clear early on. I’ve gotta get a system in place that is going to enable all these other things that need to be done. 

Unfortunately, what happens all too often, is we hear that people understand they need new support, but, Shawn, what do you tell somebody who knows they need these things, but they can’t get them. Maybe no one listens to them. How do you go about shifting that dynamic?”

Shawn said, “I would say that you can control what you can control. If you can’t get your agency to bring someone from the outside and look at your evidence operations, you generally have very little authority to accomplish that. But you can develop influence

If you’re in a situation where you feel like you can’t get anybody to pay attention, you need somebody from the outside to come take a look and help you create a solution. First, go to that E-health check. Use resources that are free, use the leverage that you do have, and that report can help. If you shoot that up the chain, the report will communicate on your behalf, objectively from a third party who has no stake in the fight.

That’s just objective information. There’s nothing that says you have to have an outside auditor come in. I would love to do it. I would love to come to your agency, but you can do it on your own. You can do it collaboratively with other agencies that are adjacent to you. Do something on your own that you can control. Don’t wait for your agency to change their minds or to change their budget strategy. If they’re not willing to look at it, start your own process.”

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.

Tracker Product’s SAFE evidence tracking software is more than just barcodes and inventory control, it’s end-to-end chain of custody software for physical and digital evidence, resolving each of the critical issues facing evidence management today. To learn more about Tracker Products, CLICK HERE.

Or, if you’re interested in Evidence Management Training from our partner company, VISIT EMI HERE.