We previously discussed training formats and training that is both necessary for evidence personnel to receive, but also train line personnel. Now let’s discuss training and training formats exclusive to evidence personnel, and how to get them in the right position to lead way in evidence management.
First Things First
We’ve touched on the fact that evidence management is not like regular police work. It involved principles of warehousing, accounting, multi-layered reporting, and physical management that is not gleaned from time on the street. It is fair to say that even the most well-intentioned, bright employee, if they are a peace officer, will likely need initial training to get them onto the right path when it comes to evidence management.
At a minimum, within the first year of hire/assignment, you should be assigning your evidence personnel to a course, either in-person, or online, that is specific to evidence and property management.
You should also develop a checklist that encompasses all the tasks that are within your evidence management operation, and synthesize each task listed into a training point. From that, you can group points that have co-dependency, inform the next task, or some other relation to the other. This promotes efficient training, while also providing a ‘snapshot’ of what the job will entail, which means your personnel will acclimate more quickly to the environment they are in.
These two items should form the backbone of your training program.
As we’ve discussed before, there are certain items that are going to become the common items of management: currency, firearms, and narcotics. Your evidence personnel should the absolute experts at handling, packaging, and storing of these items. Anything else is a failure. You may have line personnel that are experts at one or two of these tasks, but if your evidence personnel can’t conduct all management of all three, along with all related tasks, then problems will arise in your evidence room, and that’s going to lead to even bigger problems.
In some environments, it may make sense that your evidence personnel serve as an alternate armorer for the department, in consideration of the knowledge base that firearms training would provide them in the larger scale. That is an agency decision, and the factors come down to activity of the two roles in your agency.
Outside of this, your evidence personnel will need to well versed in handling and storing electronic evidence, both devices and files associated. From faraday bags, to proper storing, they’ll need training that covers this specific topic, as we move further into the 21st century.
The next mandatory consideration for evidence personnel training is anything that is local to your agency, in terms of management. Whether it’s construction tools, exotic fabrics, or even automobiles, if you have a common item or items that are handled for evidentiary purposes, you’ll need to incorporate training for them as well.
Finally, in this day and age digital evidence management is becoming a bigger part of cases, ranging from DUI to child pornography investigations. We can no longer pretend that digital content doesn’t play a major role in our investigations, and our overall daily operation. With that, you’re going to have to dedicate well-thought out training for your evidence personnel in managing digital evidence. From the point of collection, to dissemination and even deletions, your evidence personnel need to be trained on how to handle, store, and manage such evidence, and the processes involved to make legal chain of custody exchanges, along with disseminations to prosecutors, defense attorneys, courts, and even post-conviction staff to include corrections personnel. The easiest method of staying above this rising tide is to incorporate digital evidence management software that is CJIS compliant. If your management tools, meaning your software, is not providing you with CJIS compliance techniques, suggestions on how to become CJIS compliant, including steps on how to solve deficiencies, it’s only a matter of time before your cases start getting thrown out. Digital evidence management must become part of your agency lexicon, and your evidence personnel must become fluid with it.
As with any training program, there needs to be an annual component that considers the concept of diminished returns. We recommend setting up your annual re-certification training outside of any agency-wide training timelines. For one, it turns an already tough logistical goal into an even tougher goal. Two, you may depend on your evidence personnel to instruct during the agency-wide format, so having them available would be key.
Another consideration is if there is an organization in your region that has an annual training conference. These can be great programs for reviewing the work load, and sending near real-time updates in the way of current trends, while minimizing the impact on your day-to-day personnel when it comes to providing training.
There are some basics that need to be covered in training for evidence personnel, and there are also some lower priorities that need to be addressed when considering an all-encompassing training plan. You can’t address every single situation, but you can get everyone on the same page for nearly 99 percent of the tasks and challenges they will face. The goal is to have that 99 percent inform the one percent that is unknown.
Be safe out there!