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The Future of Evidence Management

November 11, 2021

“The Evidence Show” is hosted by EMI Executive Director Shawn Henderson. Not to spoil the plot, but The Evidence Show is, well… a show about evidence management. In each episode, we look at the unique issues that impact evidence managers, custodians, and the law enforcement community in general. In this episode, Shawn discusses what’s on the horizon in the world of evidence management.

He began this episode by saying, “Today I want to talk about the future of evidence management. We’re not talking about the future of evidence management 20 years from now. We’re not talking Star Wars or some dystopian universe like the Hunger Games. Although that might be interesting. 

We’re just talking about the immediate future of evidence management, like… what’s for dinner? We’re talking about small, future-picture items today. Hopefully, that will lead to bigger and better discussions down the road. 

This has been a unique time for all of us. I’ve done a few consulting gigs recently, so it’s been nice to get back out there, and see people work in their environment. But, it’s still a strange time for us. We’re doing what we can now, but this Covid situation will eventually come to an end. There will be something that happens and people will start venturing out again. 

Today, I wanted to talk briefly about the near future of evidence management and, quite honestly, to shamelessly plug some things that we’ve got in store for you in our little piece of the evidence management puzzle here at the Evidence Management Institute. 

What are we talking about with respect to the very near future of evidence management? We’ll talk about evidence management training opportunities. We’ll talk about trends and standards and best practices. We’ll talk a little bit about state and regional associations. We’ll talk about some predictions for evidence packaging, and then we will share a little bit about what’s coming up in the next episode of the Evidence Show.

My world is evidence management. That’s what I’m passionate about. So, let’s talk about live, in-person training in 2021. We’re trying to reach out and revisit each of the places we weren’t able to go in 2020 because of the pandemic. That would be Missouri, California, Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and… your city.

To see if your agency could benefit from evidence management training, I’ll describe what we do and how we do it. I love to train in new places, in new states; places that I haven’t been before. We will go anywhere where there is an interest and an audience.

One of the benefits of hosting a class… It’s free training for your agency. You provide the seats. We will provide you with free tuition. We actually do grants for agencies that host us; provided your agency will accept grant funds. Depending on the number of people you can bring to a class, we will cut your agency a grant directly for whatever you need done in your evidence room. 

So, is it a bribe? I like to not think of it that way, but we certainly want to partner with agencies and bring in quality training. And, we certainly want to make it mutually beneficial , so we want to give you some incentive for making sure that training class is full, because we like that too. There is nothing weirder than doing a training class with only a few people in the room. It’s very uncomfortable. 

If you’d like us to come out, get a hold of us before the calendar fills up. We anticipate doing between 15 and 20 dates across the country. It’s a two day class. But for those of you that are in an area where you’re still not going to be able to travel for a while, or maybe your training budgets have been slashed for whatever reason, we still have our free online training classes. I would encourage you to check that out. It’s a completely free resource. 

The FREE online classes are a very basic overview, but we wanted to make that available. I’ve had requests for training from people that work in extremely remote areas. And, they work for agencies that can’t necessarily afford to send them to training in a larger metropolitan area, or won’t for whatever reason. Those classes were constructed with them in mind. But, we also want to provide training for everyone. The FREE online training is available 24/7, and there’s a completion exam at the end. When you take it we will provide you with a completion certificate.

Number two, as far as trends in the very near future of evidence management – and this is one that I’m pretty excited about.  Years ago, a biological evidence preservation handbook was distributed by NIST. I love that book so much. 

We have standards and best practices for evidence here at the Evidence Management Institute. We’ve written an entire body of standards for evidence management custodians that directly speak to and address the issues that you deal with on a daily basis. The one topic we didn’t address was biological evidence. Not because it’s not important, but because the standards and best practices of dealing with biological evidence have been covered exhaustively and exquisitely by the NIST biological evidence preservation handbook.

I am excited to say that NIST is now working on a new kind of standards and best practices, not just for biological evidence, but for evidence in general. So, one of the things that’s coming up in the very near future is going to be a new set of NIST guidelines; talking about general evidence. Talking about things other than biological evidence and providing guidance and resources and information on an entirely new area of standards and best practices specifically related to evidence.

Judging by the work that they’ve already done on the biological evidence preservation handbook, this is going to be a very good resource for evidence managers across the country. I feel like our standards are pretty well-written, cover a lot of important ground, and answer a lot of important questions – and I would certainly encourage you to review our standards – but NIST is a national program. 

It’s a nationally accredited association that deals with standards all the time. They’ve got a whole wing dedicated to just that alone. So, that’s what they do. And, they don’t just cover biological evidence or evidence management, they cover an expansive variety of topics outside of law enforcement, outside of evidence management. 

So, I would encourage you to do one or two things: I would get on their website and join their community of practice. It’s a place for evidence managers to have input and they will give you news, information, and updates about NIST activities.

Trend number three, with respect to standards and best practices, that I hope to see in the near future, is for state associations to start coming out with some guidelines and best practices for how to accomplish things in your specific jurisdiction. Those will vary state by state. It’s going to be different in Texas than it is in Kentucky. In states where this happens, that’s going to provide an immeasurable resource for learning how to deal with very specific issues in your jurisdiction. 

I believe that there is no better resource for an evidence custodian than a state association. Belonging to a state association, whether it’s TAPEIT here in Texas, CAPE out in California, the Illinois Association of Property and Evidence Managers, or NMPET in New Mexico, that is the best resource for an evidence custodian working in that state because state laws are so very specific and very different.

I mean, in Louisiana, their laws are based on Napoleonic Law. I might be speaking out of ignorance there, but they’re certainly not like the laws in Texas. They’re very different. The laws in California and Maryland and Maine and Massachusetts, they’re all very different from each other. 

There are very specific provisions and very different practices and policies and remedies from state to state. The only way to really advocate at that state level is to be a part of a state association. In 2020, we started a program called 20 in 2020. We’re now calling it 21 in 2021. Our goal is to encourage more state associations to crop up across the country. Ideally, there should be 50 property and evidence associations in the United States… at a bare minimum. 50 organizations at the state level, advocating for evidence management issues. That’s absolutely critical. But, currently we only have about 12.

Last year, through their own actions, Minnesota revived their association, which is cool. We were trying to branch out and start in Oklahoma at the beginning of the pandemic, but then the world fell apart and we descended into this dystopian society that we now exist in. Hopefully, for only a month or two more, but we would love to go back and help associations in different states. 

So, if you are in a state that doesn’t have an association, we would love to partner with you to do something very similar that we did in Missouri. Missouri is one of the newest state associations called MAPE… the Missouri Association for Property and Evidence.

We believe so strongly in this that we will help get you started. We’ll organize a meeting. We’ll help you file to incorporate at the state level. We’ll help you file as a 501 C3. We’ll provide any support and any resources that we can to get you off the ground. It’s that important to us.

I don’t want any control over your organization. I don’t want to participate in your organization on any level, other than getting you off the ground, and helping you become successful. So 21 in 2021 is going to be one of the things that we’re going to resume. You know… seeing the future is really easy when it’s all about the plans that you’ve created on your own. 

Let’s just say that I would love to see a total of 21 state property and evidence associations across the country, by the end of 2021. Whatever we can do to facilitate that, or make that happen, we want to be a part of. We’re almost finished in Missouri. 

I have had some interest from folks in Maryland, Indiana and both of the Dakotas. We’ll definitely try to help Oklahoma form an association, when we can start traveling again. So, I think state and regional associations are going to become a bigger thing in 2021, than they were in 2020, especially if we have anything to do with it. 

Trend number four: evidence packaging. 

As I continue to do audits around the country – and read stories, and hear things from people emailing or asking questions – there are a couple of things that I hope to see change in 2021. There are a lot of things, with respect to the culture of evidence management, that need to change. But, there are a few things that I’ve seen recurring over and over again, that I would love to see changed at the national level. The first one: gun boxes.

There are new gun box technologies being developed by different manufacturers that I think solve a lot of the problems: a lot of storage problems, a lot of preservation problems. In the future, I hope to bring some of this packaging technology here to show you in person. Today, I just wanted to tell you that I think that we’re reaching a point where there are going to be some pretty cool ways to package evidence and preserve evidence appropriately in the very near future.

I do see huge changes coming for the way we package drugs. Not only just packaged drugs, but the way we talk about the drugs that we package. I’ve seen a lot of agencies across the country go away from two things that were bedrock, foundational things that I would have sworn, 15 years ago, you had to have on every package. One is a detailed weight of the item, whether in the package or outside of the package, there are a lot of agencies that are going away from specifying a weight on their evidence labels. And some have even stopped specifying the substance on the label. 

Additionally, I see more and more agencies packaging things in plastic, especially narcotics and anything that might contain fentanyl, and just sealing that up and then maybe putting that in a paper envelope. I think there are changes coming across the board. With states that still package drug evidence traditionally, I would love to see them change those practices and make it more safe and stable for evidence custodians across the board.

Another thing that I see happening, especially as we continue to gain knowledge and traction about biological evidence, is the importance of having evidence drying technology, and drying your evidence before you package it. I’ve been in a couple of agencies and have seen the net end result of wet evidence. So, I can’t make a strong enough case for drying evidence appropriately before it’s packaged. Hopefully, that’s going to be something that we’ll see around the country, as the cost of those begin to come down, and for that to become more ubiquitous.

Kraft packaging is not going to change. But, one thing that I think we need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of is what kind of Kraft packaging we’re talking about. When we talk about Kraft bags, all craft bags are not created equally. They’re made with different weights. Some are extremely light and paper thin, like a lunch sack, that will tear through. Some of them are too thick to deal with practically, almost like cardboard. 

The fifth and final prediction for the very near future of evidence management… that’s what we’re going to do on the next Evidence Show. We’re going to talk about two really cool things:  One, hopefully, we will have a fully fleshed out 2021 schedule to share with you. I think that that’s easily possible. The second… if you were with us on our last episode, we had two guys from Real Time Networks talk about their key control system

One of my frustrations when I ran a property room was dealing with temporary lockers. There are some chain of custody issues that can be problematic depending on your locker. But, the Real Time Networks’ storage lockers resolve all kinds of little issues that are important to deal with, with respect to evidence management. And, they’re fully automated. They’re really cool.

If you can have a temporary locker where you submit evidence, with a very defined and specific storage location, that tightens the granularity of your chain of custody even further. Another thing that I like about these lockers, that you’ll see next week, is getting evidence back to officers for correction. If you don’t have a 24/7 evidence operation, with a secure and trackable way of returning evidence to officers for correction, that’s another thing that these lockers can accomplish.

Our biggest liabilities as an agency is failing to appropriately care for and track evidence; failing to to keep a chain of custody with respect to evidence. But, failure to train, negligent hiring, negligent retention, all threaten the viability of your evidence too. 

So, there are standards and best practices and we have to be in compliance with them. Your liabilities are directly related to the laws that you are subject to in your particular jurisdiction. Those are going to be different from state to state, but we have an obligation to preserve evidence. We have an obligation to maintain the integrity of the chain of custody.”

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 over 600 other evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.

 

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