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.
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
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
#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
#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
#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
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
#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
#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.
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 AuthorBen Townsend 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.