The Argument for a Dedicated Evidence Management Custodian
Most larger law enforcement departments and agencies have an officer or support staff employee, or team of employees whose sole duty is to manage the intake, storage, and eventual destruction of the many different kinds of evidence. For various reasons, many mid-size and smaller departments and agencies do not. While staffing levels and budget concerns may make it difficult for smaller departments and agencies to designate an employee as a dedicated evidence management custodian, the benefits of doing so far outweigh the negatives. From productivity to employee morale, having a dedicated evidence management custodian can vastly improve any law enforcement department or agency.
Here we take a look at the reasons why having a dedicated evidence management custodian should be a goal of every department or agency, what some possible issues may arise from having this position, and what solutions can overcome these issues.
Having an employee or team of employees who manage a department or agency’s evidence on a full-time basis is preferable for several reasons. First and foremost, this employee will quickly become an expert with regard to the department or agency’s evidence management system and evidence management software.
The evidence management custodian or custodians will be able to train other employees in evidence management and will be able to testify in court if there are questions or concerns about the way that evidence is handled. In addition to this, having an employee or employees who are dedicated to evidence management ensures that employees who are not interested in evidence management do not get placed in this position as a collateral duty. This will serve to not only improve morale, but also to cut down on the likelihood that mistakes will be made as a result of carelessness or apathy. In turn, the number of cases successfully prosecuted will increase, and the department or agency will reduce the risk of being sued by suspects for mishandling or damaging evidence.
While it may seem like a sacrifice, especially for mid-sized and smaller departments and agencies, having an employee or employees dedicated to evidence management will most certainly pay for itself in the long run.
The most obvious downside to having an employee or team with employees who manage a department or agency’s evidence full-time is that this employee or employees will not be available to conduct other types of work. If a sworn law enforcement officer is placed in a position as a full-time evidence management custodian, he or she will not be able to perform regular law enforcement duties and the department or agency’s statistics may decrease as a result. In addition, having an employee or employees dedicated to managing evidence on a full-time basis may result in other employees becoming too dependent on this person or persons when dealing with the department or agency’s evidence control systems and evidence storage systems. It is recommended that all personnel receive at least basic training in proper evidence management, handling, packaging, and primary storage methods and techniques, as they relate to your agency operations.
Law enforcement departments and agencies must take into account the fact that all employees will eventually quit, get reassigned, or retire, and must have a back-up plan in place should this situation arise. Having an additional person or persons who are highly trained in proper evidence management aside from the evidence management custodian or custodians is definitely a must.
Overcoming the Obstacles
Having an employee or team of employees who are dedicated solely to evidence management may seem like an impossible goal, especially for law enforcement departments or agencies who are smaller and/or have limited budgets to work with. That being said, having an employee or employees in this position may actually increase productivity amongst other employees who will not have to worry about performing the duties of an evidence management custodian. While having a sworn law enforcement officer perform these duties is preferable, especially if the need to testify in a court of law ever arises, support staff personnel can be trained to manage evidence and operate the department or agency’s evidence tracking software with ease.
Does your department or agency have surplus funds that must be spent? Hiring a dedicated evidence management custodian or designating an existing employee to manage evidence full-time would be a wise way to spend these funds. Does your department or agency have any officers on light duty that will eventually be deemed a fully documented disability? Working as a dedicated evidence management custodian may be the perfect role for them. Law enforcement departments and agencies must learn to be creative and must not be afraid to reassign personnel based on critical needs.
The intake, storage, and eventual destruction of evidence is an important task and law enforcement departments and agencies should treat it as such. By having a dedicated evidence management custodian, law enforcement departments and agencies can increase the odds of performing this task well and decrease the odds of losing cases or being sued due to issues with evidence. Having a dedicated evidence custodian will also increase employee morale as employees who have no interest in evidence management will not have to spend their time in this realm.
It may make sense for a law enforcement department or agency to hire a new evidence custodian or reassign an existing employee to perform this duty. Although it may be an additional and possibly expensive move, especially or smaller departments or agencies, having a dedicated evidence management custodian is well worth it in the long run.