Posts Under: Property Handling

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.