If you’ve been around evidence rooms for any length of time, you’ve probably seen some really good ones and some really bad ones, with most falling somewhere in between. If yours is somewhere on the bottom of the scale, we have some suggestions to help you get organized.
First of all, please understand that knowing that YOU can locate items easily isn’t necessarily the standard by which you should evaluate your evidence room. If you were to become unavailable for some reason and the Chief had to locate an important item for court, could he? Could anyone BUT you find it?
One could make the argument that, with a modern evidence management software, it doesn’t really matter where you place an item, you’ll always be able to locate it. We agree in theory. In practice, however, we have found that having all guns in a specific location, for instance, makes auditing much, much easier. More importantly, not every agency has a modern evidence management software. Paper based systems are messy and confusing, particularly on older items that have been moved from one location to another, and then another over the years.
Let’s start with the obvious. Naming specific storage locations within the evidence room. Your locations are key to finding the items you need to find, and should be simple and easy for anyone to understand with minimal training. In short, it should make sense.
A location can be as large or small as you need it to be, but should never be so large that it becomes problematic to audit. A location can be a single shelf, or even a box on a shelf, but it more often is a bank of shelves or a row of shelves.
As an example, a particular bank of shelving might be labeled “1”, whereas a row of shelves within that bank are called “A”. A specific shelf on that row might be “3”. 1A3 is now unique, and small enough to be manageable. You could take it a step further and label individual boxes or totes on that specific shelf, such as 1A3a, 1A3b, etc…
Locations do not necessarily have to be numbered, or at least not all of them. “Refrigerator” might be a specific location within your evidence room, for instance. Try to refrain from naming your locations for the items that might be contained within them, however. A location called “Alcohol” might seem like a good idea, until you are forced to start placing other items there for lack of space elsewhere. Just as having too few large locations is problematic, having too many small locations can be problematic as well. Sorting through dozens of like locations in the event that something is misplaced is time consuming. Likewise, if a specific location has more than a few hundred items, you may find yourself bypassing it during routine audits simply because it is too time consuming.
There are different schools of thought on where to store various items within an evidence room. If a large case comes in containing car stereos, purses, cash, firearms, and drugs, are you going to keep that entire case together in a box or boxes, all in one area? Or will you separate out the drugs, firearms and cash? Each system has its advantages. We would suggest keeping certain items in specific locations for accountability reasons. Some of the items that you may wish to keep in specific locations within the evidence room are firearms, money, and drugs. Those particular items often carry with them additional responsibility. For instance, your drugs might be kept in a drug vault of some sort with controlled access and subject to regular audits. Can you imagine trying to audit all of your drugs if they are stored throughout the evidence room?
Cash should probably be kept under separate lock and key within the evidence room, and consider having 2 persons present for each audit. Many agencies now deposit cash in a bank account assigned to the evidence room.
To the extent possible, consider storing photos and videos digitally, rather than burning to a disc and storing on a shelf. Any modern, capable evidence management software should be able to handle them, and they are much, much easier to locate, copy, transfer, etc…
If the responsibility of an evidence room “reorganization” falls to you, consider separating out the items that you are certain can be disposed as you are working. Don’t place those items back on a shelf to be forgotten again. Chances are, you’ll also find that “widget” that’s been missing for 2 years! Coming to work every day to a disorganized mess can be depressing, so why not make it into something that you can be proud of? Your job will become so much easier, you’ll wonder why you waited so long!