“Don’t let your department’s property room make the next negative headlines!”
– Strategies to Keep Your Department’s Property Room Management Out of the Media
Recent Newspaper Headline: Police Department’s Property Room Raises Questions
I won’t name the department, or even the state, but suffice to say the police department subjected in the story with this headline definitely didn’t want this type of attention brought into their arena. And this isn’t something dragged out of the archives from an archaic age when evidence property rooms were file boxes stashed in a hall closet. This stems from a published article in January of an official, recorded audit report brought to light in a large metropolitan police department last summer after moving their evidence property room into a new facility. They have state-of-the-art security systems (key pad entry, alarm, digital tracking, etc.) in place, yet somehow didn’t utilize every method at their disposal. The article elaborated on how this information is exactly what the local criminal defense attorneys want to hear.
The issue at hand was the fact that during the move, there were items noted to have been lost or misplaced which included narcotics, a gun and money. It was recorded that although the property room had a keypad, designed to track and limit access to specific personnel, all of the officers knew the code and it wasn’t monitored. Plus, they had keys to enter the room, which negated the keypad and any possibility of tracking entry. To make matters worse, the alarm signaling entry/exit to the room was disconnected. So, not only was property missing, but how poorly their evidence is managed was brought to light.
How did something like this happen? There are many speculations of answers, but as a seasoned law enforcement officer and/or evidence tech you can probably, unfortunately, answer that question. All too often some of the simplest of tasks can be overlooked or outright avoided by departments and personnel. I won’t say that all, or any, intentionally make mistakes like the mentioned story, but whether due to apathy or the lack of training and knowledge, errors do happen and can be avoided.
As you read this, you can probably relate to witnessing missed opportunities to correct these problems and the potential miss-steps you could face. Not only does this draw attention to your department, it becomes fodder for a criminal defense team to use in their favor.
Generally, evidence rules require that criminal defenders are told by the prosecution about problems that potentially exist with evidence if they know it. Don’t give them this option. Any potential breach of evidence/property can be recognized and controlled with basic solutions to prevent the mentioned errors and other negative impact events from occurring.
What can you do to make sure this never happens to you, one of your cases, or your department?
Identify. As a person in administration or property management, step back and take your own mental audit of how your property room is managed. Is there a security system in place that limits only your necessary personnel access to the room and property? Is that system used as intended, with private keypad codes? Is entry/exit documented, either by hand or digitally? Are alarms and alerts in place to notify your dispatch center if security is breached? The first step to solving issues with your evidence storage is specifically identifying the problem areas. Consider scheduling your own audit that will highlight your current status and give you a great base to begin researching how to make improvements.
Technology. In the 21st Century, we are afforded many technological luxuries that didn’t exist just a decade ago. With computer equipment costs at ever-lower, affordable rates, the price barrier has dropped. Even with a limited budget, small departments can afford barcode and evidence management equipment that was out-of-reach just a few short years ago. Plus, the learning curve to operate the latest techno-gadget no longer requires a computer ‘geek’, for the lack of a better term.
Physical Structure. Make your physical storage area solid and secure. Don’t rely on the old adage of, ‘That’s how its always been,’ if you have an insecure room. There are many options available for proper structure, ventilation and to protect your evidence from fire or another catastrophe.
Education. Keep your department personnel and the local prosecuting office apprised of how detail oriented and secure your property room is or can be with their understanding and assistance. Trust me, this will pay dividends, not only with your fellow officers, but also with the other divisions of law enforcement in your area. Also, you can easily stay up-to-date on the latest methods available by browsing through trade publication articles or by taking classes at a nearby training center or online.
Stay on top of it. Now that you have the latest equipment to manage your property room, don’t relax and take it easy. You have to take advantage of the tools given to you, or those that you worked hard to get. Follow your documented department procedures, rules of evidence, utilize technology and keep up the excellent work of scrupulously managing your property room evidence.
You owe it to the citizens of your jurisdiction to take a proactive approach toward the security of evidence placed in your control and trust. It’s not just your credibility at stake. Your focus involves the department, administration, prosecution and the safety of your community.
In future articles, I’ll breakdown, identify and outline evidence property room management solutions in more detail, but hopefully this will at least get you started thinking about what you can do now.
Is this information new to you? Are there key points that you didn’t fully realize? Are you having any issues with the discussion topic? Do you have additional questions or comments about the topic?
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