We Work With Heroes
June 15, 2023
When Ben Townsend founded Tracker Products in 2001, his goal was to develop products and provide services for the law enforcement community that supported the equitable delivery of justice. As one of the chief engineers of Tracker’s SAFE evidence management software, Ben has spent thousands of hours working with state and federal clients to gain a better understanding of the unique needs of this community.
Although his vision never wavered, it did evolve. Over the years, Ben realized that one of the most valuable components in developing products and services that served the law enforcement community were the voices of the people who have devoted their lives to serving the justice system.
Although their jobs are varied – police officers, evidence custodians, lab technicians – there is one thing that Ben and the Tracker team have come to understand… we work with heroes.
What is a Hero?
There was a video of an African immigrant, living in France, who saw a toddler dangling from a balcony and climbed four stories (in less than 30 seconds) with his bare hands to save him.
Was he a hero? According to research, the answer is no. Was he heroic? Yes. But, a single act of heroism isn’t the same as a lifetime of bravery.
According to heroism researchers Zimbardo and Franco, heroes have two essential qualities that set them apart from non-heroes: they live by their values and they are willing to endure personal risk to protect those values.
When faced with a crisis, they have an intrinsic belief that they are capable of handling the challenge and achieving success no matter the odds. Part of this confidence might stem from above-average coping skills and a superior ability to manage stress.
Heroes in Law Enforcement – Police Officers
But, people in the law enforcement community don’t have to scale a building and save a toddler to be considered heroes. They can be police officers who knock on doors without knowing what’s behind them, evidence techs who handle hazardous chemicals, or lab technicians exposed to biological hazards.
There was a fantastic article that was written by Police 1 about the bravery of field officers. Here are some excerpts, “Heroism can be imputed to individuals simply because they belong to a certain sector of society. For example, law enforcement is a career that is frequently linked with the word “hero.” Some think that all cops, for the selfless acts they are willing to do, are de facto heroes. The fact that cops are willing to lay down their lives is a selfless condition.
While putting a sudden end to a high-profile, sensationalized violent act gets noticed, their day-to-day work, when done well, is full of unnoticed heroics that have equal, if not greater, consequence; like crime prevention.
The cop who focuses on career criminals is a life changer. For example, by making “lesser” parole violation busts, they forever change the life histories of many certain-to-be-next victims. Putting career criminals, pedophiles, and other habitual crooks away means stopping worse crimes before they start, thereby changing untold lives forever.
As their careers advance, cops tend to downplay the nobility, honor, value, and selflessness of their day-to-day work. But in doing so, they’re yielding to the steady decline in cultural values, where there are fewer and fewer moral heroes of any type.
Cops can add to their stature and reveal their character when they remain willing to strive selflessly for the sake of those they’ll never know. In doing their best, they are giving people great hope for better destinies.”
Heroes in Law Enforcement – Evidence Custodians
On the rare occasion that there’s a bad apple among the men and women in blue, there might just be an evidence custodian who is brave enough to turn them in. Before joining Tracker, our own Beth Bennett was an evidence custodian with the Raytown PD for 13 years. While there, she suspected a friend/coworker was stealing drugs and jewelry from the property room.
Here are some highlights of our interview with Beth, “After returning from my maternity leave, this detective started checking out an above-average amount of items. He was checking out pills and also jewelry. With the jewelry, he was saying that he was going to try to find the owners.
I would say that the red flags kind of started with the pills. I’d recently had a friend that was struggling with a pill addiction, so I had that in the back of my mind. Also, as property people, we are trained that pills are something to vigilant about.
For me, whenever I checked items out, I always counted the number of bags. I also scanned everything, but I specifically always count the bags. One time, when he brought them back to me, there was an extra bag. Which I thought was very odd. So, I immediately started looking at the bags.
He was standing over me and could tell something was going on. I noticed that two of the bags looked identical to each other and had the same item number. He immediately grabbed all the bags and said, Oh, you know, I was packaging another case. I got these mixed up, and left my office with the items. When he came back, of course, miraculously, there was the correct number of bags.
So, I thought, I need to start documenting this. As I said, the frequency of his checkouts increased, so I became suspicious. I began to bounce my ideas off my coworker to get her thoughts. And honestly, she didn’t like the guy. Lately, his mood had changed. He’d done some weird things to some of the officers that he used to be friends with.
She said, You need to tell somebody. At the time, though, I was too scared to tell anybody. I didn’t feel like I had enough information.
Another thing that set off a red flag was… he started to check out items that were set for destruction. He checked out a couple of items that he said were for court, but they were already set to be destroyed. So, I immediately contacted the prosecutor and the case officer – he was not the case officer for that case – both told me they had not requested that evidence for court.
The last straw was… he started asking to check out gift cards that were set for destruction. He used the excuse that he wanted to take pictures, but I said, There’s no reason for that. At that point, I said, I’m not pulling anything out of destruction because we put everything into different piles. It’s a lot of work to get the stuff pulled out when it’s set for destruction. So, I just said, No and he easily gave it up. He was like, Oh, okay. I guess I don’t need it then.
At that point, I was still speaking with my coworker, but I was very scared of being ostracized by my other coworkers. With him being a detective – he’d been there for 10 years – I just feared for what was going to come next. I knew if I said something about drugs I.A. was going to start investigating immediately.
And, as I said, he was my friend, so I was scared to make him mad. But, the coworker had said, If you don’t speak up, and something continues to happen, it’s going to be on you. So, she was finally able to convince me. I’d been documenting everything, and I contacted my Lieutenant.
Immediately, he went to the Captain and the Chief and told them. Then they approached the detective. From what I understand, he started divulging some of the information. They wanted him to stop so they could get attorneys involved. They had requested a drug test, which he denied. He quit right there on the spot; and left the department.
The investigation found that the detective’s desk was full of pills and jewelry. He had been keeping over-the-counter pills and knock-off jewelry in his desk. So, he was checking these things out and replacing them with fake evidence, right there in the detective unit, where there were eight cubicles. Everybody else was in there, but nobody had any idea that’s what he was doing.
The big thing was, he knew the computer system. He knew exactly what to look for. He was searching for items that were in containers. So, the jewelry… if it was a watch within a watch box, or pills within the pill bottle… obviously what he was searching for was Oxy and hydrocodone. Those were the two big pills that he was stealing.
As far as the charges and sentences… unfortunately with the jewelry – since we didn’t have the jewelry as documented as well as we probably should have – we weren’t able to charge felony for that because we couldn’t prove the value of it. So, that’s something that we learned. But, he was charged with C Felonies for the drugs.”
Heroes in Law Enforcement – Crime Labs
At the end of 2020, we hosted a panel discussion with Scott Gosselin from the Maine State Police Crime Lab and Michele Foster from the Canton Stark County Crime Lab, to talk about the impact that COVID had on crime lab operations. Like us all, that was unchartered territory for them. Here are some excerpts…
Scott said, “Staff members had a lot of questions about being in tight spaces and in offices they share with other people. How were we going to deal with that? Were we going to be able to transition to [having] some people work from home? One of the questions that was really prevalent, at the very beginning, was how do you manage an operation of lab staff in a telecommuting environment?
That was very difficult because you can only do so much work at home before you have to get back into the lab. And, then how are you going to manage a lab environment where you need to have time for everybody to work in the lab by themselves; not working on top of each other? We have some labs in our crime lab building that have benches for six or seven scientists.
And, if they had evidence that might’ve been coronavirus-contaminated, we had questions about that. Initially, we were trying to figure out how we were going to deal with that from a lab point of view.”
Michele added, “A lot of our concerns were about the delivery of the evidence and how we were going to handle that; protecting the people that are delivering it as well as ourselves. We really needed to see what direction our law enforcement agencies were going to go.
For us, we positioned our room differently. So, when someone brought in evidence, they would actually set down the evidence and they would be at a six-foot distance from the receivable person. Our signature pads were kept at a distance. We made sure we had disinfectants and things that can be wiped down and easily cleaned between people coming in.”
Scott said, “Same thing on our end. We installed a window where we intake evidence. It’s sort of like a drive-through window, except it’s in our building, and our clients come up to that. But, I think there were a lot of Chiefs who were reluctant to let their officers leave their jurisdictions.
Our submissions are, however, on the uptick a little bit; almost back to normal. So, now we’re worrying about officers who are waiting in line. Yesterday, we had to start putting marks on the floor where folks needed to stand because we need to provide social distancing.
We also ask (before they come) about the evidence that they plan to submit, so we have an idea of what to expect when it gets here. We expect the folks bringing evidence to us will tell us if there’s a danger for fentanyl, if there’s a danger for blood biohazard, or if there’s a danger for anything else.”
While these changes may not seem dramatic, bear in mind that lab techs are constantly exposed to a wide range of hazards. Bodily fluids can harbor dangerous bacteria or diseases like HIV/AIDS. Chemicals can be dangerous if inhaled, absorbed through their skin, or mixed with other chemicals. And, testing weapons can be risky.
Share a Hero Story!
You and the people you work with in law enforcement are heroes to us. In a world that seems to feed on negative stories, it’s our duty to shine a light on the positive things the law enforcement community delivers every single day.
Fill out the form below if you or someone you know would like to be featured as a “hero.” We’re excited to hear from you!