While the proper collection and handling of evidence collected at a
crime scene are the first critical steps in the process, a well-managed
evidence room ensures its continued protection and maintenance. Training,
certification, and accreditation programs help agencies to establish
professional standards and strengthen accountability. In addition, the use of
bar-coding systems and evidence tracking software provide enhanced evidence
management for greater control.
CALEA and IAPE
The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc.
) was created in 1979 as a credentialing authority through the joint
efforts of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the
National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), the National
Sheriffs’Association (NSA), and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF).
Through the CALEA Accreditation Program, public safety agencies can voluntarily
demonstrate their ability to meet an established set of professional standards.
CALEA Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies Chapter 84, Property and
Evidence Control, sets guidelines for the effectively management of evidential
property, covering administration and operation, secured storage and
inspections, and final disposition. Vince Dauro, Southeast Regional Program
Director for CALEA, said the standards cover all facets of evidence collection
and handling, mandating the implementation of written procedures and training
to effectively safeguard the evidence integrity.
The International Association for Property and Evidence, Inc. (IAPE)
the largest property and evidence industry organization in the world, providing
its members with access to numerous manuals, guides, and related information.
IAPE also conducts a live 16-hour property and evidence management class
throughout the U.S. and Canada, which is also available in streaming video for
agencies that do not have the resources to fund training-related travel.
Membership and certification is for individuals only, who must meet
certain requirements. Those who fall outside the requirements can still obtain
an associate membership. To advance the scope of knowledge and enhancing
professionalism within the field of property and evidence management, the IAPE
has adopted comprehensive professional standards in a number of important
property and evidence handling procedures.
The IAPE Professional Standards consist of 15 sections that cover
staffing, packaging, policies and procedures, storage, disposition, and
internal controls. Adhering to these standards should assure any agency that
reasonable steps have been taken to obtain a secure and efficient property and
evidence management system.
Effective Evidence Room
For many agencies, evidence management is an onerous task, due mainly
to lack of training and inadequate collection and tracking methods. IAPE
Past-President Robert Giles finds that the most dysfunctional evidence rooms
are those that are over-crowded due to failure to purge in a timely fashion.
“Most evidence rooms have about 70 percent misdemeanor evidence that
can generally be purged after the statute of limitations has expired—about one
year in most states,” Giles said. “This means that we frequently don’t need new
evidence rooms, just better organization—including mobile shelves and uniform
size packaging. Also a lack of enforceable policies and procedures really hurts
, a comprehensive manufacturer and distributor of crime scene investigation
and forensic evidence collection supplies, offers an Evidence Collection
Accelerated Training Program for law enforcement agencies. With hands-on
training and limited class sizes, it covers the scientific methods of
collection, identification, evaluation, and preservation of physical evidence.
According to Global Marketing Manager Andrew Mariella, Sirchie training focuses
on best practices to effectively preserve and manage the integrity of physical
In addition to training in the use of proper techniques, advanced bar
coding and evidence management software allows agencies to more efficiently
track and manage evidence throughout an investigation. As Giles pointed out,
barcoding is not a new technology, dating back to the 1950s.
“What is new are software programs that not only track evidence, but
actually help manage it and provide notices when it’s possible to purge. We are
trying to get the word out to replace the programs that are not functional, and
go to stand-alone programs that actually meet the needs of managing the
Giles believes that stand-alone evidence management software that fully
documents and tracks an item of evidence from point of submission into the
evidence room until the time it is disposed of, is only part of the equation.
“Appropriate software management also informs the user when an item has been
checked out of the evidence room in excess of a pre-established time period, or
when it is a candidate for purging due to the statute of limitations having
expired. The timely purging of evidence is one of the most important functions
that well-designed evidence management software can assist with.”
ADAMS Property and Evidence solution (P&E)
provides complete control over collection, storage and management of evidence
gathered at crime scenes. Offering highly configurable screens and reports,
ADAMS P&E allows users to streamline evidence processing, reduce redundant
data entry, increase efficiency, and improve check-in response time. Using
barcode bag-and-tag at the crime scene, and rigorous check-in and check-out
processes, chain of custody is controlled from the time evidence is collected
to laboratory analysis to its day in court and final disposition.
Mont Rothstein, VP of Product Development for Foray, said that ADAMS
P&E eliminates the need to store physical media with images, audio, and
video by providing a secure repository for digital evidence. “By making it easy
to find and dispose of property, Foray ADAMS helps minimize an agency’s storage
space requirements. The system also allows evidence collection officers to
enter their own property items. This, coupled with a tight chain-of-custody,
reduces the workload in the property room,” Rothstein added.
the property and evidence management solution from
FileOnQ, Inc.™, allows local and state agencies to effectively manage,
maintain, and track property and evidence from the crime scene to the
courtroom. With EvidenceOnQ, agencies can generate any report in the exact
format required, regularly perform inventories and audits, and reduce
repetitive and error-prone manual tasks while increasing overall efficiency.
Easy to use and fully customizable, the software automatically creates, stores,
and updates a complete and unalterable audit trail.
Prior to implementing the EvidenceOnQ solution in 2008, the Sonoma
County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office was using a labor-intensive, inefficient
manual system to manage its evidence. Evidence reports were difficult to find,
and evidence was in a constant state of flux—checked out for court cases or sent
to a lab—making it difficult to pinpoint its exact location. The immediate
benefits of EvidenceOnQ included a more reliable chain of custody, quickly
generated reports, and a significant savings of time.
Evidence technician Helga Ritter, a 25-year veteran in the Sheriff’s
Office property room, said processing big cases with numerous items of evidence
used to be a nightmare. Under the manual system, every item would have to be
labeled by hand, written down on paper, and filed. “Now when a case comes in, it’s
already in the computer, and the deputy enters the evidence information into
EvidenceOnQ. All we do is change the locations,” Ritter explained.
Dauro states that if an agency sets up its evidence storage facilities
properly, the barcoding interface can greatly enhance the tracking capabilities
for the evidence custodian, while cutting down on the time it takes to locate
an individual piece of evidence when needed. “This system can also notify
personnel when statutory requirements for evidence retention have been reached,
allowing the disposal process to move much more expeditiously,” Dauro added.
Both Dauro and Mariella recognize the importance of keeping current
with these new technologies. “As we move further into the electronic era, there
are always new types of equipment being used in criminal enterprise. If an
agency does not train their personnel to handle this type of equipment,
valuable evidence can be destroyed instantaneously,” Dauro stated.
Sirchie as well continues to address new technologies as they are
developed. “Recent additions to topics include the handling of mobile phones
and other digital devices for the preservation and investigation of digital
evidence, best practices for DNA collection and prevention of contamination of
crime scenes, and technologies for latent print examination and documentation,“
that fail to properly manage and oversee the evidence room leave themselves
open to public criticism in the media, often resulting in lawsuits and changes
in leadership. The Ashville, N.C. Police Department is one example of what can
happen if agencies fail to follow these standards. In 2011, the North Carolina
State Bureau of Investigation initiated an investigation after key items were
missing from the department’s evidence room.
the SBI closed down the evidence room, an independent audit revealed a room in
complete disarray, resulting in the resignation of then-Police Chief Bill
Hogan. In March 2013, William Ledessie Smith III, a civilian employed for over 20
years as the department’s property evidence room technician, pleaded guilty to
taking between $10,000 and $30,000 in drugs.
the wake of the scandal, APD’s new Police Chief William Anderson announced the
hiring of Tim Scapin, an 11-year veteran of the evidence room, to revamp the
operation by implementing new policies and procedures. The new evidence room is
now staffed by one sworn officer with the rest being non-sworn, and has been
well-run with no significant issues arising.
points out that management of the APD evidence room is a joint effort, starting
with an organized front office staff, and continuing with support from the City
Manager’s Office and City Council. The department also maintains a partnership
with the District Attorney’s Office, which assists in facilitating the disposal
of items related to adjudicated court cases when allowed by law.
CALEA accredited, the agency adheres to the schedule
published by CALEA for conducting audits and surpass their requirements. At
least six audits are performed each calendar year, conducted by assigned agency
members with the rank of Sergeant or above. “These members are not directly
assigned to the evidence section. An agency member from outside our section
generates a random sampling of items to audit. This list is provided to
evidence staff a short time before the audit begins.”
“We assist in the process, with the outside member
physically examining the items and documenting their findings,” Scapin said.
The final reports are forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for review
and, to assist in creating an environment of transparency, copies are often
provided to local media outlets upon request.
Scapin found that in order to change the fundamental
aspects of the operation, they had to start with changing the culture. The
statement, “Well it’s been done this way for years,” did not comply with the
agency’s plan to learn from the past and apply new policies for the future. “On
many issues we took a step back and looked at how we operate. This process led
us to change some facets of the system,” Scapin explained.
These changes included shifting to a more sensitive and
tamper-resistant evidence tape, using clear narcotics bags, and authoring a
comprehensive set of policies. “The ability to positively react to fluid
situations helps as well. Fostering change brings a constant state of flux in
which you must be able to adapt, all while keeping the team rowing in the same
Susan Geoghegan is a freelance
writer living in Naples, Fla. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.