Collecting Evidence from Traumatized Victims | Evidence Management

Collecting Evidence from Traumatized Victims | Evidence Management

 

We’ve been there. At the cleared out house party. In the long hallway at the very loud dance club. In the quiet dormitory, in the alleyway at two in the morning, along the car that’s parked on an access road off the highway. A traumatized victim. Be it an assault with significant injuries, rape, child abuse, you name it, it’s the worst type of calls we handle from the perspective of evidence collection, if not for the circumstances surrounding the incidents, and the emotions they evoke. In this article, we’ll talk about a different approach to evidence collection involving traumatized victims, which benefits the agency’s reputation over the long run, and provides an additional tool for the agency which will provide ample benefit any time we’ll need it.

 

The Team Approach

The team approach is what helps us in nearly every function we find our staff in. Call it what you will, two heads are better than one. In this scenario, we’re looking to add an element to our team that we don’t have continuous relations with. With trauma victims, we’re going to wind up at the hospital. And at the hospital, especially with certain forms of trauma, we’ll be dependent on a specially trained nurse. Depending on your jurisdiction, the interaction is mixed. While there are many areas to limit interaction with outside professional staff, this is an area where a hesitation to include outside help would be a major mistake.

Law enforcement, like any other profession out there, is limited by resources. Be it money, manpower, specialized training, there are several factors that can limit our experience and abilities. Many departments that encounter trauma-related incidents can’t always send their personnel through sophisticated training to handle these types of calls, and remain efficient in their overall service goals. Consequently, the dependence on another agency develops. And this may not necessarily align with the desires of that agency, or your agency’s needs.

Getting proactive about what you can assemble a quality response to trauma is critical. Working with your local hospital is where we’ll start.

 

Nurse Examiners, Nurse Practitioners, & Physician’s Assistants

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners receive training in how to handle evidence involving rape kits, corresponding to trauma that is experienced in many scenarios of rape and sexual abuse. SANEs, as they are known, do receive up to date training on evidence collection and handling. But what you should be considering is how to broaden that relationship within your agency footprint. It would stand to reason that being made aware of an active SANE at your local hospital should be required. But if your agency is not equipped to investigate rape allegations, this may be something that falls off the radar for those involved.

Some Nurse Practitioners and Physician’s Assistants receive special training in all areas of trauma. While they’re not specifically trained to handle aggravated assaults, and weapon-based injuries, their education lays the groundwork for working towards specific experience with these types of injuries.

These are resources your agency should consider leveraging for your goals in trauma cases. How would something like that look like?

 

Your New Extended Staff

Developing this relationship should focus on some departmental goals: First, enhancing agency response to overall crime. Second, developing external professional relationships. Third, easing some of the work load on your line personnel.

If you’re a smaller agency, you may only have one staff member qualified to handle any or all of the elements in a serious trauma case, like sexual assault. If you were to task this person with handling every element, surely it would get done. But say the victim is female, and your officer or detective is a male? True, the law allows for them to still collect evidence, and photograph injuries, and all those items that come with such a case. But what do you do if the victim is traumatized to the point that they can’t handle men being in the room? And in the process of collecting evidence in that scenario, defense is then able to raise that as a factor for improper collection? This is where building some fluidity with hospital staff is a major bonus to your work.

To do this correctly, if have to look at the State-mandated training that hospital personnel in the previously listed positions go through. Since it is State-mandated, it is specific to the activities they occupy, and most likely you’ll have to ensure your evidence policies are in line or able to become in line with the requirements this staff is subject to.

In planning this joint venture, it’s best to involve your District Attorney in the process of ensuring that both the requirements that SANEs, and trauma-specialty hospital personnel are subject are respected from the perspective of law enforcement. Getting their help ahead of time is useful in judging the validity of the effort, and finding the areas where a defense response could potentially expose weakness.

Second, providing evidence photography training to other nurse personnel, who are able to follow along with the SANE is an extra step not always considered. Simply, your personnel trains with nurses or other designated hospital staff ahead of time, showing them how to document trauma for the purposes of evidence, and have them pair up with the SANE, and document all trauma throughout the evidence collection process.

Third, you’ll want to have your evidence bags and materials on hand for the SANE to use. It would also be wise to teach them proper handling and packaging, but if that’s too big of endeavor, having your personnel passively present, so they can receive materials as they are filled, so that proper packaging, and continued handling occurs is your best, most likely practice.

Fourth, the conclusion of the evidence collection process, ensuring that a debriefing process occurs with the SANE, and other evidence-trained personnel, to include obtaining statements about what they saw, what they collected, the injuries that were present, and so forth. Getting these elements into place can lead to success in smaller agencies prosecuting trauma cases, specifically sexually-based crimes.

It is more than likely that if this type of personnel already exists at your hospital, they are already considered qualified witnesses by your District Attorney, so the use of their services is going to be accepted practice in the respective courts of law that your case may go to. But having a closer, support-oriented relationship with these personnel goes a long way in solidifying your ability to respond and properly document these terrible incidents. The better your teamwork in these cases, the more likely a case doesn’t go to trial. And while trial does tend to net higher sentences in some cases, that is not always a given, and strong cases that force a plea by the suspect are a better alternative to a chance at a higher sentence.

 

Policy Considerations

Some things to consider, how to handle training outside personnel. Would hospital administration be against their personnel receiving training in evidence documentation? Are they concerned about certain tasks that might be customary of law enforcement now being handled by professional staff not from that field? In setting up your relationship, these are the types of questions that getting a District Attorney, and even your municipal attorney involved in that can help alleviate those concerns.

If those questions are answered, are next thing to consider, is how to involve non-law enforcement personnel in evidence training? Would it mean that your evidence personnel has some supervision over hospital staff? Does it mean that they could be called away from their job? This again should be discussed ahead of time, and a strategy to employ to remove that concern is to have your evidence supervisor called out to the hospital if such a trauma cases happens. With them present, they can make decisions concerning how to handle, document, and preserve evidence in real time, that removes the issue of hospital staff making independent, and potentially wrong decisions. Remember, if they’re trained in sexual assault response already, they have received training in collecting and packaging, so they aren’t laymen at the task, they may just not be as efficient as your staff, who is handling a lot more evidence, all the time.

Finally, decisions on responsibility always come into play. Suffice to say that, if you’re evidence supervisor is present, they should be running your evidence management software in a mobile environment at the hospital. To ensure that evidence collected is going straight into the cache, with little time in between collection and submission. The quicker evidence is accepted, logged, and processed for further analysis, the better. The quicker all this happens; the less defense has an argument concerning mishandling.

 

Conclusions

Developing a better, more equipped response to trauma cases can be a big deal for your community. It means you have more control over handling problems in your jurisdiction. You can assure citizens of their improved safety, and of a dynamic approach to solving cases if they were to ever become a victim. Developing a broader professional relationship with hospital staff can help in many ways. Specifically, with response to trauma cases, you will be surprised that in managing these cases alongside hospital staff, and providing full support to their activities in these cases, you can create and mutual respect that may not have existed prior. Adding support by sponsoring additional training for hospital personnel in dealing with trauma cases also helps in showing hospital administration that they are not alone in dealing with the problem of budgets and manpower.

Trauma cases are sensitive cases, and they require sensitive, non-traditional approaches. Victims are hurt, experiencing a wave of emotions and pain, suspects are emboldened and polarizing, and the chaos can feel overwhelming for anyone responding to help. By maximizing your resources ahead of time, and developing relationships ahead of trauma, your agency can become more efficient, useful, and greatly responsive to the community at large.

Be safe out there!