In a previous blog post, Evidence Room Inventory Procedures, we talked about inventory procedures and why it is so important to have processes in place to constantly check and double-check your work. Let’s talk now about random inventories, or audits, and how they reinforce the integrity you’ve built in to your evidence room.
Let’s be honest. Theft can happen anywhere. One of the most embarrassing issues facing any law enforcement agency is internal theft. And for obvious reasons, one of the most tempting targets within your agency is the evidence room. Where else can one find guns, money, drugs, valuable electronics, and jewelry all in the same place? Most of which will probably never be claimed and never be missed?
I absolutely hate thinking that anyone affiliated with law enforcement would ever dishonor the profession, but we all know that it happens. Over and over and over again, it happens. We’ve read the headlines and we’ve seen the repercussions. You don’t EVER want it happening to you and your agency.
So, if you were to sit down and give serious thought to how an outsider might infiltrate your evidence room, you’d probably come away thinking that you’re in great shape and that no one could possibly defeat all of the physical barriers in place, skirt the surveillance systems and alarms, access locked cabinets within the evidence room and then hide the crime for any length of time.
But now let’s take it a step further. Let’s think about how YOU, if you were so inclined, could steal from your own evidence room. No one knows the ins and outs better than you do. You’ve been using your evidence management system for years and you know its strengths and its weaknesses. You know your disposal procedures better than your supervisor, your Captain and your Chief. You probably had a hand in writing the procedures that govern your day to day operations! So how would YOU steal? Could you hide it for long? Could you hide it forever with no worry of it ever being discovered?
Chances are, you already know where your procedural weaknesses lie and you know what needs to be shored up. I would venture a guess that most agencies greatest vulnerabilities lie within their disposal procedures, but that is another topic for another day.
The fact that you know that you would never steal is irrelevant. Think about it. You probably won’t be there forever. You probably don’t work alone. If something were to come up missing, they’ll probably look squarely at YOU first. You should probably fix it right now. No one would dare steal a valuable diamond necklace today knowing that it will be inventoried tomorrow. But if your regular audit procedures mean that after tomorrow’s audit, that necklace won’t be seen again for 6 months or more, it becomes much more tempting. This is where “random” comes in. One of the easiest things you can do to protect the integrity of your system is conducting random, surprise audits.
If inventorying the location where that necklace was stored was a random choice, and that very same location could very well be picked again next week, and all involved parties know it, suddenly stealing it becomes a much more risky proposition.
A big part of “random” is the involvement of another person or persons from outside the evidence room. That might mean your supervisor or Chief, or it might even mean an outside entity. But it is most certainly not you or your staff choosing what gets inventoried during a random audit. Whomever it is, make sure you keep records of exactly what you did on a given day and have your witness sign and acknowledge what was accomplished. I’m not talking about writing in a notebook that Sgt. Smith assisted you with a random audit of all firearms today, but keeping records of every single firearm that you found, any discrepancies that were noted, and how those discrepancies were corrected.
Any modern, capable evidence management software system will contain the tools to make it easy for you, so take advantage of them. There is no room for mediocrity. Your processes MUST be beyond reproach. If you can identify a weakness, so can someone else.