Top 10 Resolutions for Evidence Managers
Written by Ben Townsend   

IT'S THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR: the time when people like to make resolutions. It’s easy at the very beginning. We’re all excited… and then, all of a sudden, something happens and we get into the third, fourth, and fifth day of the new year and life kicks in. Soon, you find yourself saying, I can’t believe it's been a year since I didn't become a better person.

This article appeared in the January-February 2021 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.
You can view that full issue here.

My goal is to encourage you to take into serious consideration the important things you want to accomplish this year as an evidence custodian. We’ll talk about these in a way that seems easily achievable. It all starts with goals. I mean, resolutions are goals, right?

“Success is the progressive realization of a predetermined goal.” —John Maxwell

Very rarely are you just going to stumble upon success. If you go into the new year and think I sort of want to do this thing, but you’re not really committed to it, you’re probably not going to pull it off. To be successful—whether it’s in your personal life, or in your evidence room—you must be determined to put that goal down on paper and simply say, I'm not going to fail at this.

You’re reading this and may be thinking, I can come up with three or four things that I want to do. It’s easy to come up with the list, but you’ve got to be able to prioritize. I would highly suggest you write down a major, a middle, and a lower priority. But don’t get too many things going at once.

I mean, if you’ve got 20 things on your list of priorities for the year, odds are, you’re not going to get them done. Especially if you’ve got too many large priorities to deal with. So, I’m going to tell you what I think are ten really good things for you, as an evidence custodian, to focus on for the year.

If you walk away from this with just one or two resolutions as your high priorities, that’s a good place to start. I would suggest that you pick one thing to do, get it done, and then go on to the next one. It is way more motivating when you knock out one than trying to deal with ten goals all at once.

Just do something. —Ben Townsend

Something I say frequently around our place is: Just do something. I would rather make a small effort—and succeed in getting it done—than be overwhelmed and ultimately do nothing. Something is better than nothing.

If you are getting the same results year after year, draw a line in the sand, tell yourself No more, and begin to move in a different direction. Just pick a place to start. And then, start.

Every year we at Tracker step back as a group and look at our successes for the year. As the year goes along, when something good happens, we write it down on a sticky note and put it up above our desks. Because at the end of the year, it’s really fun to look back at the things we’ve accomplished.

So, as a company, when we have our annual meetings, one of the things we focus on is: What are the things we accomplished this year? We don’t just launch into new objectives. We certainly spend time on new objectives, but we want to look back at what has been accomplished and say, Hey, we had some goals, and look... we accomplished them! If we don’t make the goals that we’re trying to achieve, we still learn by reviewing them.

Now, let’s get into the world of evidence management and the top ten resolutions for you to consider....

#10. Check your temperature alarms. I saw something in USA Today where a hospital was storing a bunch of the COVID-19 vaccine in a broken freezer. Many of you are storing things in freezers, and if the freezer goes out… Well, you know how that happens at home sometimes and all the frozen goods are ruined? Well, it’s a much bigger ordeal when your sexual assault kits get damaged. So, be sure to constantly monitor your temperature alarms and make sure they are always in good, working order.

I know they have some really cool alarms now where they can tie into WiFi and send emails with notifications. Make sure your freezers and refrigerators have an alarm on them so you will know that you’ve lost power.

#9. Prepare for water damage. Do you have a water pipe in your evidence room? Are you in an area that’s prone to flooding? The question then becomes: What happens if there is a flood? Water damage is far more common than you might think. What happens to your evidence if a pipe bursts or there’s flooding damage? Take this into consideration and plan for the worst.

#8. Check the fire suppression system. Look at your fire extinguishers. Look at any other systems that might be in place to make sure they are functional. I mean, it’s pretty simple to have a fire extinguisher in the room—and they are built to last—but they need to be maintained. They do have expiration dates on them. Take a look at those things and make sure they’re up to code.

#7. Look at your Narcan (noloxone). It does expire after a period of time. Don’t be in a situation where you need Narcan and the Narcan is expired, or you can’t find it. We are living in a world where Narcan is absolutely necessary. You should have some of that in your evidence room, near the drugs, at all times.

#6. Look for rodent-infestation problems. It’s not hard to know if you have a rodent problem in your evidence room; there will be droppings. I know they like to get into boxes. They are really good at getting in there, finding a spot to hide, and tearing things up. Make sure you’ve got measures in place to cut down on infestations.

You may laugh at that and think, I've never even heard about that. But I know that there are people out there right now who are dealing with serious rodent problems. That’s not only a problem for the evidence—that’s also a problem for you. It’s a health hazard to have a rodent infestation in your evidence room.

#5. Look at your access control and your keys. Is it time to replace them? How many people have access to the evidence room? How do you control access to the evidence room? Now is a really good time to look over how people get in, who has access, and how you are recording these movements.

Are there cameras in play? How do people get into the evidence room? This might be a good opportunity to get some electronic systems in place for controlling access to the evidence room, such as a key-card system that documents the entry of each person. Video cameras should also be an essential part of an evidence room—not only for your protection, but for everybody’s protection.

#4. Look at your video cameras. First, you should have video cameras. But also, if you do have them, have you ever looked to see if you can review the videos? It’s amazing how many people have video cameras in place, and they have never looked at the resulting video. What if it’s not working? What if there’s a problem in the system? That’s like having backups of our hard drives, but never testing the restoration from those backups. It’s great to have backups, but if they don’t work when you need to restore them, that becomes a serious problem. So, make sure you look at your video camera systems, and check out the recordings to make sure they are functioning the way you expect.

#3. Do inventories. Some of you are not doing frequent inventories of your evidence room. I know they are hard to do, but maybe you just don’t have a good system in place.

Here’s how I’ll try to encourage you in this regard: Just pick a couple of locations and do them. Even if you need to print them out on paper, or if it’s on a notepad—just begin the inventory process.

"Broccoli" by whologwhy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I look at inventories much like being faced with an overwhelming, ten-pound mass of broccoli that I have to eat. Nobody wants to do it. It’s a monster process. It’s difficult. Painful. It causes you to lose sleep at night. So, instead of saying, Hey, my New Year's resolution is to inventory that entire room in one afternoon—which is not possible for most of you—just pick one location and do it. And then, when you’re finished, take that piece of paper with the results, hang it up on the wall, and buy some big gold stars to put on it. This will, at the very least, show that there’s some success being proven.

Then, next week, do another one. If, for whatever reason, you’re in a situation where you can’t do it all within a year, doing something is better than nothing. You simply need to be doing inventories of your evidence room. And if you’re in a situation where it simply cannot be done—perhaps you don't possess the technology to get it done—then you need to invest in a system that’s going to help make it feasible. Because not doing inventories is a big no-no.

#2. Look at your technology for backup or failure points. It still happens today: That hard drive with all my video data on it is busted, and we lost it all. Or even worse… My computer software system that has all the evidence… It broke and now we’ve lost all of our evidence. That stuff still routinely happens.

Many of you may think, That’s not something I have to worry about. I’ve got an IT department that worries about it. Hey, guess whose problem that is? That becomes your problem when something breaks down. If you have an IT department that handles that stuff, I would go ask them to show you where the backups are. Confirm backups are being done. Say, Tell me that these things are being done. I don't want to lose my digital evidence. I don't want to lose my physical evidence, and all that case information. Because otherwise, how can you ensure that it’s being taken care of?

Last year, in the Cincinnati area, a large regional vendor that was doing work for 20 local police departments lost their record-management system (RMS) data. I’m not suggesting they lost some of their evidence or some Excel files. They lost their entire RMS system. Twenty departments. Nothing left.

I cannot even imagine having to make a phone call to tell people that everything has been lost. Which is why we go overboard on all of our technology. But you, as the evidence custodian, are ultimately responsible. If something goes wrong, it may be somebody else’s fault, but you bear the burden when that technology breaks.

So, you may have to ask some questions. How is that digital evidence being backed up, or What happens if that one hard drive goes bad? Please don't take the stance of: That's not my problem. That's somebody else's problem. Because, ultimately, it does become your problem, even if you can point the finger at someone else.

#1. Do audits. Many of you are operating under compliance infrastructure. But what I have ultimately learned over time is it doesn't really mean a whole lot. The evidence portion of the compliance infrastructure is really not that thorough. Inspectors are usually pretty paltry about what they’re looking for.

So, I would recommend that, as part of the evidence room, you have written policies and procedures in place. These policies should dictate how you go about doing what you do.

I suggest you invite auditors in from the outside to scrutinize your operation. You may be thinking, Man, this may not go very well. But, ultimately, the purpose of those audits is to change how you do what you do and become better. You simply don’t have the option of sitting there and doing nothing.

You may be thinking, I don't want to bring in scrutiny. I would encourage you that this is exactly what you need. You want someone to look at what you do and say, Hey, these are areas where you really could use some progress. That’s not a bad thing. It feels like a bad thing when somebody tells you something bad, but you want that scrutiny. You want the chief coming in and looking at your operation, or you want to go to your chief at the end of the year with a report that says, Here’s an evaluation of how we’re doing.

If you are sitting there thinking, Ben, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard anybody say, I don’t want that, then I would encourage you to really look at that and think about bringing somebody in to look at things and give you a different perspective on how you are operating. Because that report becomes an invaluable part of taking steps forward. Many of you have to go back to the boss and either get approval, or get funds. It’s a million times better to walk in the door with a report—from a third-party agency—that gives you some areas to focus on, than to walk in and say, Hey, this is all a total mess. I need money.

In short, if you commit to accomplishing some, or all, of these top ten resolutions for evidence managers (or even something else you prioritize), then at this time next year you can look back with pride and say, I really accomplished something last year. I get that gold star after all!

About the Author

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products, a software platform that is designed to meet the needs of law enforcement by managing all aspects of evidence management, from collection through disposition.

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