Property Rooms on the Move
Written by Bob Galvin   
 
If your property and evidence department is planning to relocate to larger quarters, allow ample time and create a tight plan. That’s the advice from several agencies that have accomplished their own moves. Property room moves will only proliferate as agencies struggle with growing volumes of property and evidence, coupled with aging buildings and poor efficiency for storing and handling evidence. With non-stop evidence intake, storage space runs out fast. Purging can help with this challenge, yet many evidence items can linger a long time if officers want to keep them for their cases for undefined periods, or due to statute of limitations status.
 
Even when an agency has moved its property and evidence operation, having more space is not always the biggest concern. Purging is. This is the opinion of Ty Routley, evidence control supervisor for the Portland (Ore.) Police Bureau’s property-evidence division. The division takes in nearly 5,000 items each month. Increases in intake volumes are difficult to manage since manpower resources often do not grow proportionately. “That’s where agencies gain a large backlog of property, because they can’t control what comes in,” Routley explained. “They have to receive all the property. The purging part suffers because you don’t have to do it.” However, Routley emphasized, “The purging is just as important as receiving the property.”
 
There’s no question that a new facility can make dramatic differences for any agency because more square footage and improved storage methods yield higher efficiencies and smoother management of evidence. Surprisingly, in Portland Police Bureau’s case, the square footage in the new facility is less compared to its original building. “But we’re larger in volume handled because we’re able to go up higher,” Routley said. For example, at the old facility, shelving was 6 to 7 ft. tall. In the new one, shelving can go up 12 to 15 ft., thanks to rack shelving.
 
Portland Police Bureau’s property-and-evidence division’s move is probably typical of many such moves. All storage locations and shelves for the new building were entered into a computer. Staff was split in two, with half the staff situated in the new building and half in the old one. A moving crew was hired for the move itself, and Routley supervised them. For example, “They would pull items off shelf one and put them on shelf one of the cart and keep doing this until the cart was full,” explained Routley, who added that this same procedure was repeated for each successive shelf in the old facility and corresponding moving cart. Each filled cart was placed on the moving truck and then documented on a form on a clipboard. When the truckloads arrived at the new facility, the crew leader scanned each cart to its new location in the new facility. Applying this method, the Portland Police Bureau’s move took ten days and 88 truckloads.
 
 
 
Mock Move Advised
 
While not essential, conducting a test or mock move can prove very helpful and be a blueprint for success with the actual property move. This is what McMinnville (Ore.) Police Department concluded, and it used its evidence management software, EvidenceOnQ from FileOnQ, Inc., during the mock move. “With the software, I was able to scan key information such as what items were placed in each box, where those items were going (in the new evidence room) during the move, what time, when the boxes were unloaded, and what officers were handling the boxes—all for court purposes and chain of custody,” noted McMinnville PD’s property room technician, Marci Peters. “I was able to scan all of this information with the evidence management software and have a complete record of chain of custody for each item. As a result, we were able to package all of the boxes ahead of time and have them put on pallets and move into the new facility. It went so smoothly,” Peters said.
 
 
 
Precise Reports are the Goal
 
For the mock move, McMinnville PD made some test boxes (of evidence items) and scanned them, just as they would for a real move. “This was to make sure we could get the exact reports from the evidence management software showing chain of custody and showing items going into a moving box, the moving box going to the officer, then over to the moving van and into the new facility.” The mock move and test reports were accomplished about two weeks before the actual move.
 
This extensive planning and testing paid off for McMinnville PD, said Peters. “Doing the mock move was extremely helpful, and gave us peace of mind that everything was going to turn out as we planned,” Peters said. The police chief, citizens, and defense attorneys also could see how smoothly the property and evidence relocation occurred. “We’ve never been questioned or challenged on it.”
 
The Spokane (Wash.) Police Department moved from a 17,000 sq. ft. property facility to one with 64,000 sq. ft. in 2011. Like Peters, Tom Bell, Spokane PD’s evidence technician, conducted a test of his property move using The Crime Fighter BEAST evidence management software program. It proved valuable as a way to verify that key aspects of the move occurred as needed.
 
Every movement of evidence during the relocation was recorded in the evidence management software, according to Bell. “For the actual move, we set up a marshaling yard,” Bell said. “As the items were transported, they would get scanned at every stop.”
 
The beauty of today’s software for tracking evidence is how intuitive, productive, and time-saving it is. Bell recalls that he could load a pallet with 11 boxes and his software could tell him what was in each box. “For example, I would scan 11 times and pick up 600 items on that transaction,” Bell said.
 
It’s a good thing technology was on Bell’s side, along with pure people power. Spokane PD mandated the property-and-evidence move be executed in seven days. It took only six days using 19 53-foot trailers that traveled back and forth 4.5 miles (9 miles round trip). Using the software, having a well-defined plan of action, support from top administration, and a well-organized staff all helped to ensure Spokane PD’s property move was successful. As a result, chain of custody was tight and secure.
 
 
 
Inventory Checks During Move
 
The Gilbert (Ariz.) Police Department conducted a property move in 2006. Although it had purchased a records management system (RMS) from Intergraph with a property and evidence module, the software proved too new and unfamiliar to the evidence staff to use in time for the move. When Roy Casto, property and evidence supervisor, began his job, there were only three technicians including himself. After that, it dropped to two people. “Our inventory system was so far behind with purging,” Casto recalled. “That was the biggest part of getting ready for the move—getting rid of items we just didn’t need.”
 
Gilbert PD’s move went smoothly, but using a mostly manual evidence management approach demonstrated just how much longer, slower, and cumbersome the move was compared to how much more easily it could have unfolded by using the RMS software. Gilbert PD’s last inventory of evidence prior to the relocation was in 1999, Casto said.
 
For the move, each location containing evidence was given an inventory check, detailing every item on each shelf. Then, all items were put in a large bin, and the bin was sealed and labeled. Finally, all of this information was entered into an Excel spreadsheet. Each bin containing its own Excel spreadsheet showing inventory was placed in the new location, and items were placed on the shelves.
 
Software Installed Aids Agency, After Move
 
Older evidence items remain organized within the same bins that were utilized for the move, while newer evidence is placed on shelving in the new evidence facility. “It’s not the most efficient way to retrieve evidence,” Casto said, but eventually all evidence will be documented within the Intergraph software’s evidence module. “If I had to move again, the evidence module is a tool we would definitely use.”
 
Meanwhile, the software has dramatically improved evidence management for the Gilbert PD’s property and evidence unit. Audits are performed quarterly. “With our inventory, I can go to the software and enter a storage location and that will give me a list of everything in that location,” Casto explained. “I can scan all the barcodes and the software will tell me if there are missing items or items in that location that should not be there.” Also, any officer’s report for a case is accessible along with case notes.
 
Plan Move Far In Advance
 
Given the daunting logistics of relocating evidence and property operations to a new facility, what kind of planning should there be, and how far in advance? “I would say start thinking about your move seriously a year in advance,” offered Lauren Zephro, forensics services supervisor for Santa Cruz County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office property-and-evidence unit moved to a new facility in three days. While the move went smoothly, preparing for it was somewhat challenging.
 
“The problem with our move, and one of the reasons we got evidence management software, is that we had multiple evidence management systems in place that had never been consolidated,” Zephro said. With the software installed, “We can say how many evidence items we have now, but we couldn’t tell you how many we moved.” Much of the new evidence was entered in the software, but other evidence that was inventoried before the move was on an Excel spreadsheet that eventually was uploaded into the software. Lisa Gomez, evidence officer, noted that it can benefit any agency launching a move to have all evidence in some kind of automated evidence management program before the move occurs, which makes tracking the evidence received at a new location much easier. Now, with its software fully in place, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office can better track its evidence. “It has definitely been helpful because now when we release property to other agencies, we can supply them with a report of the full chain of custody,” Gomez said.
 
Advanced planning and tapping the capabilities of an automated evidence tracking solution are two key ways to help assure a successful move. In addition, noted Peters, the McMinnville PD property and evidence technician, “You should have a written plan (for a property move).” And, she added, “You want as few people as possible helping you because this means fewer hands touching your evidence.”
 
Inventory and Purge Before Move
 
Since most property room staffs are not large, Gilbert PD’s Casto agrees that at least a year is needed to plan a facility move. Even more important, Casto stressed, is to inventory evidence and property on hand before the move. “Trying to inventory while you move can cause a lot of extra work, headaches, and problems,” Casto said. Also, relative to performing inventory, Casto urges any agency thinking about or planning for a move to “purge, purge, purge!” He also advises to “use all property room people available to move. Do not use more than one outside person per property room person, and have them always work in pairs.” Finally, Casto feels it is vital to try using only personnel for a move who work in the property room as they clearly understand all needs for managing evidence.
 
Plan to Accommodate Growth
 
One more critical aspect to factor into a move to a new facility is how functional it will be, and how well it will handle the non-stop intake of property and evidence. Bell, of Spokane PD, was able to design his new storage facility that includes high-density, rolling shelving brought over from the older building, plus rivetier and bulk pallet-style shelving. “We also have the ability to compress aisles in the future, and we can go up,” Bell said. “As a result, we think this building should be functional for us for at least 20 to 30 years. We designed in potential growth.”
 
Software Can Be Crucial Tool
 
If your agency has an evidence management software program installed, make sure all property-and-evidence personnel know how to use it. The software can be invaluable for a facility move. Darrell Allen, property-room supervisor for the San Antonio (Tex.) Police Department, coordinated his property room move a few years ago from a 50,000 sq.-ft. warehouse to one with 100,000 sq. ft. Allen calculated the benefits of using his evidence management software program, EvidenceOnQ, in terms of inventory management and, in particular, time savings. Allen said his facility’s move involving 67 tractor-trailer loads in three weeks would have required 6,110 hours without use of the software. With it, the move took just a little more than half this time and saved $125,910. Every piece of evidence that was moved received an automated transaction record of when it was loaded on the truck and when it was taken off and put on the shelf in the new warehouse, as well as the appropriate authorization at each step of the process. “The end result was a complete and meticulous chain of custody maintained for each item during the entire move,” Allen said.
 
Bell concurs with Allen on the use and value of evidence management software. “If you’re counting on your software to work (for a move), put it through the wringer,” Bell said. “Run test loads, see how many loads you can fit into your marshaling yard, know your storage requirements, and how long it will take the trucks to transport loads. It’s planning, planning, planning.”
 

 
About the Author
 
This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is a freelance writer who covers topics related to law enforcement and the technology of crime- and crash-scene reconstruction. His office is located in Oregon City, Ore.
 
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