To accomplish effective evidence management at a law enforcement agency, it is essential to have proper policies, standards and practices. Since this is an intricate, multi-faceted process, automating has become essential. A comprehensive software program can track and control the wide range of critical functions required, yield massive time savings, increase efficiency and establish and maintain mandatory chain of custody. However, once software is acquired and installed, there also must be thorough, consistent training that addresses the specific evidence control needs of each law enforcement agency.
Although we live in an online world and many evidence management software vendors provide the option of online training, this may not always be the optimal solution. Every agency has different evidence management procedures and needs. A good software program will be able to adapt to meet these needs. The bigger issue is making sure everyone who works in the evidence room is adequately trained on the software and gets the same training. Even more critical is that any questions a user of evidence software has can be answered immediately so training is never slowed down while they are mastering the software. This is the main problem with pre-recorded online training.
The best way to learn evidence management software is to be trained in person and on-site—right in the evidence room of your law enforcement agency. That’s the opinion of Shannon Turner, who was a police department evidence technician for 10 years, and has visited many evidence facilities nationwide as a consultant. Turner, who is now an evidence specialist and consultant for FileOnQ, Inc., which makes the EvidenceOnQ software, prefers on-site training for several reasons, chief among them being that this kind of training, coupled with a flexible software program, yields the best outcome for evidence personnel who must use most or all of the software’s features.
Evidence Room Organization Affects Training
When Turner visits an evidence room at a police department that has just purchased EvidenceOnQ, she looks at how everything is organized. This makes a huge difference in the type of training she gives to software users. For instance, knowing the location and proximity of evidence storage lockers, layout tables, storage facilities, staging and destruction areas and where and how far personnel have to walk and maneuver between them are all key factors influencing how efficient the software will be. “I take all of this and use the software to make it more efficient for them by creating specific locations or a process, or to configure capabilities in the software to make the evidence management process more streamlined,” Turner says.
When Turner trains evidence personnel in the evidence room, she includes police officers in the training sessions since they collect and submit evidence to be documented and stored. Instead of demonstrating the huge range of features in EvidenceOnQ, Turner tries to cover only the basics—how to log in evidence and assign storage locations, how to perform barcode scanning, how to search for records and generate reports and how to release evidence and apply electronic signatures to evidence records. When necessary, Turner also provides follow-up training that goes beyond the software’s basic capabilities.
Substantial Time Savings with Software Easier to Generate
What is the impact of Turner’s training? Capt. Mark Terman, who previously managed the evidence room for the Kansas City (Mo.) Police Department and installed EvidenceOnQ there, says having an automated evidence management system saves 6,300 hours for officers per year. “We’re putting this time back on the street (with more officers),” Terman says. Better audits of stored evidence, tighter chain of custody, customized reports and quickly located evidence are other benefits that have resulted from the software training and usage.
The software offers a home screen on which nearly every category of evidence tracking is displayed. This easy, quick reference point can be customized to meet any evidence room’s specific data needs based on what tracking aspects are most vital to the property and evidence room.
For example, Chief Ron Noble of the McMinnville (Ore.) Police Department decided to automate his evidence room with EvidenceOnQ because he says the agency needed an evidence management program that would be intuitive and that one officer could teach to another. Turner provided on-site training to McMinnville PD’s evidence technician, and reports of nearly any kind are now easy to generate, and potential liability issues such as security of evidence, as well as purging of evidence that is no longer needed are easily avoided. “Sometimes, we will be asked to respond on evidence issues occurring at agencies outside of McMinnville and regarding what we are doing to prepare ourselves for something similar,” Noble says.
Rotating Personnel an Issue
Many law enforcement agencies rotate personnel in and out of evidence room duty, which ultimately leads to fragmented and weakened staff knowledge of evidence management software. This is among the biggest evidence management challenges, according to Joe Latta, Executive Director of the International Association of Property and Evidence (IAPE). Not only does the practice of rotation leave a gap in knowledge of evidence room policy and procedures, but in addition, “Nobody above the property room custodian has adequate knowledge of warehousing accounting principles,” Latta says.
Turner, who has encountered this problem firsthand, has a successful solution. “Once we reorganize a police department’s property room and we’ve trained staff on the software, when a new person comes in, we can do a Web conference to bring them up to speed based on the information about the property room when I first get there,” she says.
Beyond Software, Evidence Management Experience is Key
Software that automates a wide range of tasks involved with managing evidence has undeniably become a crucial tool, especially given the growing influx of evidence many property rooms receive each month. Software can help property room personnel easily locate evidence, perform inventories and generate all the necessary reports for evidence control and auction lists and inventories. But even having an automated property room presents a downside if there is not consistent training provided on the software, Latta says. “You get trained by someone who (over time) doesn’t recall what he or she has learned from the vendor. So, just a fraction of the software’s capabilities are learned by newer property room staff. If you haven’t been trained adequately on the software, how do you know how to get the data out?”
A key advantage of on-site training for a police department’s evidence room is that the trainer brings a wide range of professional experience in evidence management. For example, Turner has helped agencies plan relocations, rewrite standard operating procedures (SOPs), navigate the accreditation process and work out issues revealed in a bad audit report. Turner, who has visited and trained personnel in 125 property rooms, noted that she can take what she’s learned in one property room and apply it to a training session at another agency’s facility. Such focused attention has made a huge difference in quality of training and how well property room personnel retain what they learn. “When we do on-site training, we don’t get nearly the calls that we would if we had not provided it,” Turner says. And, she adds, more of the software’s features are tapped when on-site training occurs.