Evidence Training | Currency Handling, Packaging, and Storing Standards
In this edition, we’ll be discussing proper handling and packaging of currency, how this type of training is not only essential for evidence personnel, but that they should be the subject matter experts on the topic, and what additional devices and protocols are needed to store and manage currency evidence exceptionally.
Currency is one of those ‘big three’ items that are sensitive in nature, and there is a history of mishandling, mismanagement, and outright theft of currency from within evidence rooms. In those instances, what is usually identified is a lack of internal controls in one area that allows for a ‘gap’ in recalling what is actually present, and what is present. And agencies have been great at addressing those gaps, training on them, implementing policy, and then getting back to business.
Initial handling is like the issue of narcotics handling that we discussed before. Depending on the circumstances involving the currency evidence, you’ll want to document through photographs, where the money was found, and how it was placed. Again, donning gloves, and placing the money in an envelope designed for currency is the next step. Now, the big issue here is how to go about counting this money, to verify how much is present. Some agencies require two officers to hand count the money simultaneously, agreeing to the number, and then packaging the currency for Intake. Another method is to take currency evidence to the bank that your agency maintains accounts in, and using their counters to verify the amount. The usual method is done with our two-officer premise earlier, however, the bank employee acts as a witness to the activity, and they sign to the verified amount the counter achieved, but don’t specifically handle the currency. This means you’ll have to send personnel over to the bank ahead of time to learn how to operate a counter, and likely they will need to call ahead of time to ensure that bank personnel can witness the activity. However, what this doesn’t account for is those hours when banks are closed, which is most of the time. An alternative to this arrangement is to have a counter available to officers, rather than using hand counting methods only. Be sure to apply these same standards to counterfeit money as well. An oft-overlooked fact is that counterfeit money has a higher percent chance of being called to court as an exhibit than real currency does. Your process for handling both should be the same, as it speaks to consistency. Be sure to separate counterfeit and real currency, however, even if they are part of the same case. For one, they are two different items entirely, but this also informs our storage needs. And counterfeit currency should be marked as such on the envelope so that it’s easy to decipher what currency is real, and what currency is not.
Once the officers have counted the money, verified the amount, and sealed the permanent envelope, the next step is for the officers to enter this evidence into your evidence management system to the corresponding case, and then indicate the specific location the evidence has been placed within your temporary storage location. Two additional protocols to place into this part of the evidence lifecycle is to have an automated alert that tells evidence personnel that there is currency stored in the lockers. You could do this for all types of evidence, but your personnel would desensitize to the barrage of alerts. By limiting the types of items, they receive alerts on you to keep them fresh for when they receive one so that they know they need to pay attention. This alert should be generated from your evidence management system, and should not take extra work on the part of the inputting officers. The fact that they are entering currency should trigger the alert autonomously, and once they’ve confirmed that item in the evidence report, the alert should send. The second protocol to add is listing the currency on a sheet of paper within the temporary location, which shows the identified temporary location, amount of total currency, date and time entered, and a block for officers to write in their badge numbers. This gives you dual confirmation of currency entering your evidence chain prior to Intake.
Intake & Storage
When your evidence personnel receives the alert, it should list the amount of money entered into the temporary storage location. And with that comes a policy point. Each agency needs to determine the currency threshold which, when reached, evidence personnel may be recalled back to work before the start of the next business day, or start of their next shift, due to the sensitive nature of the currency, and in particular, bulk versions of it. Some agencies may decide that if currency levels which $1,000.00 cumulative, or anyone case that reaches that mark. Some might say not until $5,000.00, or $10,000.00. The point is, whatever that threshold, there needs to be sound reasoning behind that threshold, that is explained in a formal document, which then informs how the policy is written, and explains in clear English, what circumstances activate a recall. Keep in mind, that due to the nature of recalls, you’re not necessarily paying a standard rate of overtime. You may in fact have a minimum number of hours to pay out your personnel under the conditions of the recall, so make sure to consider this when factoring in what the threshold for your agency will be. You must process large quantities of currency into your evidence room quickly, to avoid any lapse or loss of currency. Even though they are likely to secure in your temporary storage location, this step is important, as it speaks to the level with which your agency handles currency overall. A defense attorney can use a lapse concerning bulk currency in any number of ways in forming a criminal defense, and what mishandling of evidence, especially currency can open your agency to is even more scrutiny concerning evidence handling. In essence, one lapse with currency can be the lead domino in a chain effect that knocks the rest down.
Assuming our evidence personnel have returned to duty, and are processing the previous night’s evidence entries, they remove the currency from temporary storage, very contents in the sealed envelope, sign off on the currency sheet confirming they’ve taken possession of the currency, and then onto the evidence room, where the entry in the evidence management system is updated to show the currency logged into the evidence room. But rather than placing this evidence in our general shelving, we need to use a safe. Once more, we need to have two people verify the amount going into the safe. If only one person is available in the evidence room, they need to have someone else in the agency they can go to help them complete this process, before locking the evidence into the safe. Ideally, another sheet of paper hangs within the safe, where the same data recorded on that Intake form is a record in the safe, which maintains a running total of all currency in the safe, and a blank space to record when the currency leaves the evidence room. And we can’t emphasize that point enough. The only time currency leaves that safe is when something like testing at the crime lab, an exhibit for court, or return to owner comes up. Outside of those three circumstances, until the conclusion of the case involving that currency, there is no reason for the currency to leave the safe.
Another consideration is if the currency brought in is wet. We don’t want to store evidence that is soaked. Officers bringing such currency will need to dry it out totally, before placing it in temporary storage. This may mean that you’ll need to have fans available for officers to standby while currency dries.
Transfers of Evidence
Your agency will need to add another element to your policy when currency is processed out of the evidence, at that is the timetable when currency is processed out. Typically, evidence rooms will remove currency and deposit the money straight into an account linked to the agency’s evidence unit. You have options. Some agencies use time as their factor, others use a certain amount of total currency in the safe as the threshold when this activity occurs. Just make sure whatever method you use, it’s clearly documented, and the procedure is clear. As we’ve used two people to verify the amount going in, we will use two people the verify the amount going out. They will sign out the currency, head to the bank, make the deposit, collect a record of the deposit, and return that record to the evidence room, to be placed in the disposition folder concerning items in the safe. In transport, the policy should indicate that the personnel involved taking no unnecessary deviations from the most direct route to and from the bank. Both personnel needs to maintain contact with each other and the money until it is deposited. Some agencies prefer to transfer this money to their Finance Department, which is certainly acceptable. The point is to make sure you follow the concept of a two-person format to verify the amount of currency taken out of the safe, given to Finance, and then a proper receipt to turn back in afterward.
Disposition of Currency
We typically don’t destroy the currency. We tend to dispose of it, however, and that’s using the evidence handling version of the term. When it comes to disposition, our final outcomes are likely to Return to the Owner or Bank Deposit. We have no reason to hold onto cash unless we’re using seized money to finance our CI fund or other cash related program. In any event, the money should be transferred to the bank by this point. In the event we are to return currency back to the owner, then we would get a copy of the order of judgment, have the responsible investigating personnel to draft an agency letter stating the case number, the matter has been resolved (stating what that disposition is), and that the currency belonging to whatever parties are to be returned. The letter should require this officer’s signature, as well as their supervisor, and that documentation would then go to the evidence room, who would request the money in question be presented at the police department for return. Two personnel would retrieve the money, utilizing the documentation at hand, collect another receipt showing the transfer, and then bring the cashback, where it would then be restored in the currency safe. The evidence personnel could then contact the owner, in whatever way is acceptable to agency standards, informing them that their currency is ready to be returned to them, and what days and hours the evidence room is available for returns. Your personnel should collect signatures from the owner, a color copy of their identification. We’ve discussed a lot of paper signatures in some of the internal controls, which are necessary, but keep in mind, that much like our discussion concerning narcotics, a number of these signatures should be captured within your evidence management system, electronically. From officers entering items to evidence personnel accepting them, to sign-outs for court or lab, and even this process, where an owner is reclaiming their property, these are steps that may require some paper signatures, but should also require electronic signatures. This incorporates that two-person, dual confirmation ideal we’re aiming for with our evidence.
In many cases, the court may assess fees to the currency, and in those cases, your personnel may need to file similar paperwork to get that money transferred to the court. However, any money left over, that is deemed forfeited can replenish your agency’s coffers for training and equipment that you may not have necessarily been able to afford otherwise. Don’t take this as a motivating tool to seize all money found, but recognize that all the hard work of managing it does sometimes have a pay-off for your agency, and that can sometimes come at the right time.
The stages and activities surrounding evidence handling and storage may seem basic, but they’re anything but. In trying to address all the various concerns, one needs to recognize how much information goes into a proper knowledge base for dealing with evidence, especially from the perspective of evidence personnel. Currency creates a special set of circumstances that require two people to be involved at every stage of the process, to ensure we’ve covered all our bases, we need to involve two people, with dual confirmation at every stage, verifying that the currency we’re in charge of, has not been changed, altered, or gone missing. By maintaining this level of detail at every stage, we confirm that if there is a loss, we know right where to go, and what to begin searching for. But barring the worst scenario, we can achieve 100 percent accuracy in the storage and management of currency evidence. And that’s a difference-maker.
Be safe out there!