Storage Technology
Written by Gary Gulick   

There are a lot of good reasons why your
P&E room should be brought into the 21st Century

The McKinney (Texas) Police Department took advantage of the latest property-and-evidence storage technology when they were designing their new Public Safety Building. Among the innovations was this high-density mobile storage system that maximizes the use of floor space. It has six carriages, each 28 ft. 1 in. long and 8 ft. 8 in. high and 4 ft. deep. Each of the carriages rolls so that all six can be compressed into an area only 24 ft. deep—which is about half the floor space of conventional shelving. When one of the interior carriages is being used, there is an aisle way about 6 ft. wide. The carriage in this photo is being used to store boxes of evidence items.

STOP FOR A MOMENT and think about all those thousands of items in your property-and-evidence (P&E) room. What would the consequences be if something compromised the security and the integrity of those evidence items?

Perhaps you don’t want to think about it. After all, the list of bad things that can happen when evidence is lost or ruined is extremely discouraging: unsolved homicides and robberies; cases dismissed in court; perpetrators released to walk the streets.

Based on your experience in law enforcement, you already know that safe evidence storage and a secure chain of custody should be among the major priorities for every agency. But things do tend to get old and out of date, things like standards, procedures—even the tools you use on a daily basis. And among those tools are the storage facilities in your P&E room.

Some time ago, the International Association for Property and Evidence (IAPE) published a document entitled New Standards for Certification. This paper addresses many of the potential problems that are challenging P&E rooms nationwide today. It offers a number of specific ideas, including some helpful guidelines about the features that new storage facilities should offer.

After you finish reading this article, you can download the IAPE standards document by going to www.iape.org and clicking on the “Standards” button. Spend some time looking at Sections Four and Five of the document. They have these titles: Temporary Storage of Evidence and Long Term Storage of Evidence. While the text does not specify a particular brand of storage equipment or facilities, it does outline certain things that should be in your mind when you start planning your P&E-room storage upgrade.

The mobile storage system of the McKinney Police Department also has a hanging file system for storing items such as CDs of photos, DVDs of squad-car videos, audio tapes, and other types of evidence.

Evidence-storage technology
for the 21st Century

One of the main things you need to be aware of, however, is that evidence storage has undergone some remarkable changes in recent years. Today’s carefully designed P&E room does not even resemble those of the 1970s or 1980s. Back then, a P&E room was usually a chain-link cage with bare and open shelving. The key words then were stack it. But the key words today are uncompromised security.

The current trends in the area of evidence storage involve technology that really was not available 20 or 30 years ago. For example: barcoding, video surveillance, card-access, and biometric fingerprint readers. The new technology also includes sophisticated enclosed shelving units that move to conserve floorspace, drying cabinets, and refrigerators that can be used to store biological evidence.

The technological advances that have occurred in recent years are very interesting—and very compelling.

There are a number of sources you can call for information about the products in this field. If you just go onto the Internet and do a search for the term evidence storage, you will come up with literally millions of potential hits.

Many of the suppliers you will find this way offer products that were designed for commercial or industrial storage. But there are some companies that tailor their products to meet the needs of law-enforcement. One of them—Spacesaver Corporation—has been building and marketing metal shelving and cabinets since 1988. Two years ago, they merged with another maker of storage equipment—DSM Law Enforcement Products—in order to provide a broader range of products.

“DSM developed one of the first pass-through evidence-locker systems with a front lockout feature,” said Klaus Holm, Spacesaver’s market director for public safety. “That was in 1989. It was a keyless, pushbutton-operated system. That way, the officer who is storing evidence doesn’t need to worry about losing a key.”

Holm went on to describe how they developed other state-of-the-art systems for law-enforcement agencies, including ACCESS 500, an audited, computer-controlled evidence-control system that allows P&E-room personnel to have real-time tracking of individual pieces of evidence from the time they are submitted.

“We are not just selling lockers,” said Holm. “We are designing and selling secure evidence solutions. The needs of the P&E room are changing. Right now, there is a major trend for barcoding and electronic control. In addition, we have developed a system that captures video images of anyone who is opening a locker. That sort of thing can be very helpful in court.”

Some of the more popular products in the law-enforcement community today are storage-shelving systems that are described as being mobile. Each shelving unit (see photos on Pages 26 and 27) rests on motorized rollers so it can be moved horizonally. Multiple units can then be moved so they rest together, eliminating the wasted floorspace between them.

“Storage for property and evidence takes up a big footprint inside a police station,” said Holm. “P&E rooms can be huge, mainly because of the need for storage shelving. Mobile-storage units like this can help.”



To deposit packaged and labeled evidence in any one of the lockers in the pass-through locker system, the officer selects a door with a handle in the horizontal position and simply pulls it open (left photo). To close the door, the officer turns the handle to vertical while pressing the lock button. Once the door is locked, no one can open it from the outside. The evidence is then removed from the pass-through locker system by the P&E-room personnel on the other side of the wall (right photo).

A case study about how to
upgrade P&E-room storage

There are two basic ways to improve the potential of your storage area: (1) remodel the existing area while finding ways to handle space limitations or (2) build a totally new area that will allow you to design it from scratch. The latter option is better, of course, because it gives you more freedom to exercise your creativity.

Capt. William R. Roland, the head of the criminal investigations unit with the McKinney (Texas) Police Depart-ment, said his agency was fortunate enough to have the latter option when the city put up a new building for its public-safety operations.

“With a careful and thoughtful design process, we had the ability to put the walls where we wanted them to be,” said Roland. “And because of that, we gained a lot of valuable space to use in storing the large amounts of property and evidence that we take in on a daily basis.”

McKinney is just 30 miles north of Dallas. The U.S. Census Bureau ranks McKinney as being the fastest-growing city in the nation with a population of 100,000 or more.

The old public-safety building was only 23,000 sq. ft. in size—but the new building is 84,000 sq. ft. Of that, they allocated about 5,000 sq. ft. for evidence processing and the P&E room. The department has 150 sworn officers and 40 civilian personnel.

“During the design and construction phases,” Roland said, “we worked with Spacesaver to come up with a facility that would maximize the area that we had set aside. As a result, our P&E room is totally up to date. It helped, of course, that we were starting from scratch with a new building and didn’t have to retrofit an old building. We just took our time and made sure we got advice about the most up-to-date equipment. We wanted to make sure that this building would be able to serve us for years to come.” As part of the planning process, they worked with Southwest Solutions Group, Inc., the local Spacesaver representative.

The result of their careful, advance planning is an evidence-handling and evidence-storage facility that reflects storage technology’s state of the art. The department’s evidence storage begins in the area outside the P&E room where officers process their evidence. In the old building, officers had only a small shelf in a back hallway to use for filling out forms for documenting and packaging items. The old facility also involved the use of 12 key-operated evidence lockers that passed through to a 1,000-sq.-ft. property room.

Today, however, the officers have a 350-sq. ft. space that is dedicated exclusively to evidence processing. There are multiple countertops and tables so a number of officers can work at the same time, completing their processing, and getting back out on the street in short order.

The McKinney Police Department’s P&E room also features pass-through lockers that make it easy for P&E-room personnel to access the evidence, record it, and store it, all the time maintaining a very secure chain of custody. In addition, the unit has a special refrigerator and a freezer for storing biological evidence. To add to the security of the unit, there are also separate storage rooms for weapons and narcotics. The P&E room itself is secured by a card-access system and a biometric fingerprint reader.

“There are only three people who can access the property room,” said Roland. “I can bring all three of them to court if accessibility is questioned. We can testify to the unit’s security.”

According to Roland, the strong chain of custody yields several dividends. “The district attorney’s office and other government agencies that use our services appreciate our P&E room’s efforts to be well-organized and quick on responding to requests,” said Roland. “We are able to make our officers more efficient in dropping off and picking up evidence. We have increased our confidence in our ability to be prepared for trial. And we are able to find any evidence item —usually within just one minute.”

The increasing need for
creative thinking and planning

These points—efficiency, confidence, and response speed—are being brought up more and more frequently to the suppliers of P&E-room equipment. According to Holm, much of today’s interest in P&E-room storage has to do with the accreditation program of CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies).

“A lot of agencies have been coming to us recently talking about the CALEA requirements,” said Holm. “In most cases, they are getting a new police facility and they want it to be up to date, with the latest technology.”

Holm said there is also a group called IALEP (International Associa-tion of Law Enforcement Planners) that is very much interested in how to get more items into those limited spaces and how evidence can be better handled, organized, and stored. Any department that is considering an upgrade in storage should probably check with these organizations first.

“Police departments have tight budgets,” said Holm. “So it takes some creative thinking and planning to come up with the right combination of technology and practicality.”

 


ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED:
"Storage Technology", written by Gary Gulick
January-February 2008 (Volume 6, Number 1)
Evidence Technology Magazine
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