Posts Under: Inventory Management

September 24, 2012

Protecting the Big Three: Cash, Drugs Guns – Part 2, Property and Evidence Handling

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Part 2: Property and Evidence Handling to keep it Secure

evidence shelf image on Protecting the Big Three: Cash, Drugs Guns - Part 2 page at Provista

This is the second of three installments about securing and preserving property and evidence most likely to disappear from an evidence room: cash, drugs, and guns. The first installment explored the need for policy and intake controls. 

“Cash should be deposited with the agency’s finance department,” admonishes Joseph Latta, Executive Director of the International Association for Property and Evidence, Inc.  “In my experience, 90 percent of all cash collected has no evidentiary use. It’s a seized asset that will be returned to its rightful owner later, or kept by the department as allowed by law. You collect $100 during an arrest, there’s no need to return the same bills to its owner, a city check works just as well and the temptation is out of the evidence room.”

Latta says the IAPE has thousands of news clippings in its database of law enforcement officers caught with their hand in the cash drawer. The evidence management system starts in the field, at the scene, at the moment the cash, drugs, or guns are collected. When it arrives at the property and evidence room, the individual signing for the evidence is assigned responsibility. The evidence and property becomes their responsible until it’s returned or destroyed. It’s the evidence that should be destroyed, not someone’s career.

Logging in property and evidence requires a ‘checks-and-balance’ system. A master log records its delivery, a receipt gives a record for the file and a segregated location provides the physical security. Depending on departmental size, the secure location may be as small as an appropriately secured and locked file drawer or it may be a room-sized vault. Later, the evidence or property must be located again for a court appearance, use in the investigation, or eventual return or destruction.

“Limiting the number of people who have access to the secured area cuts down on the opportunity for things to disappear,” reports Svaren, an officer with the Lake Oswego, Oregon, police department evidence division. “Using electronic security, passcodes, or dual keys are some ideas that work.”

Tracking, Finding, Disposing

The concept behind the initial tracking of the big three is very simple:

  • When did it come in?
  • What is it?
  • What case is it for?
  • Where is it going to be stored?

Problems often occur when evidence is checked out, sent to prosecutors or the court, and no longer needed. This requires the evidence management system to become more sophisticated.

“There’s another challenge,” says Latta. “In many departments, staff assignment to the evidence room are on a rotation basis. Law enforcement officers are trained to go out and catch bad guys, not maintain a warehouse.” There are agencies large enough to have the property and evidence room run by full-time professional evidence custodians, but in other departments, institutional memory is short term and that’s when problems can occur.

Looking ahead to Part 3 of the series, read how evidence management systems maintain institutional memory and ensure that the Big Three do not get misplaced, lost, or stolen. 

September 10, 2012

Protecting the Big Three: Cash, Drugs, Guns – Part 1

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Part 1: Property and Evidence Tracking to Prevent Internal Theft

Evidence table with police officers image on Protecting the Big Three: Cash, Drugs, Guns - Part 1 page at Provista

This is the first of three articles about protecting property that most commonly to disappears from evidence rooms. Setting policies and procedures are a necessary first step for protecting and securing cash, drugs, and guns. 


Property and evidence rooms are usually out of the public eye until something bad happens. All it takes is one good headline and the spotlight is on and fingers start pointing. Usually it’s because one of the “big three” go missing. Cash, drugs and guns are the three temptations to walk out of police department evidence room doors. Many times, it’s not discovered until a much later audit. Then the headlines  are even uglier.

Protecting and preserving property and evidence is the mission of any department; preventing its disappearance is a major task.

“Skim news stories everywhere, and you’ll find the big headlines about property and evidence comes from one of the ‘big three’ disappearing,” says Joseph Latta, Executive Director of the International Association for Property and Evidence, Inc. “Drugs—especially painkillers like Oxycotin—are a huge problem.” Maintaining better management and oversight is the solution.

“The challenge is to secure the evidence, keep it separate, and restrict access,” says Latta.

Process and Procedures

“Strong written policies are a must,” adds Wendy Svaren, an officer with the Lake Oswego, Oregon, police department evidence division. “These policies need to cover what happens from the time of seizure until final disposal.”

“Regular inventories – especially the big three – are crucial,” she adds. “If you don’t know what you have on hand, how can you protect it?

According to Latta, it matters not whether a department handles one or two property seizures a week or a one or two an hour, “The procedures are the same. It’s the volume that dictates the size of the property and evidence department and storage areas.”

Something departments don’t like to admit, the vast majority of big three thefts from property and evidence rooms is from internal pilferage. The temptation is just too great for some to resist.


Track, Segregate, Secure

It all comes down to tracking inventory, secure storage, and regular auditing. “I’ve always recommended using three different color containers or envelopes for cash, drugs, and guns,” Latta suggests. “This is instant identification telling whether property is in the right area for storage.”

“Segregating this type of property and evidence, and adding an extra layer of security is one of the top three tips I’d give a department,” says Svaren.

With the big three, many departments require increased security. Accurately tracking the property is the first step. Policies need to dictate how quickly it moves from the field to the evidence room.

“In Lake Oswego,” Svaren describes the process, “we require two officers to count cash and verify amounts. Anything over $1,000 requires a supervisor to witness and verify.”

Other departments implement a two-person rule to access any of the big three. Some will require a subpoena or supervisor’s written request for officers to check out one for any purpose.

Looking ahead to Part 2 of the series, Provista reports on simple implementation to keep the Big Three from getting misplaced, lost, or stolen. Watch for Part 2 coming soon.