First Step for a New Chief of Police: Ordering an Evidence Room Audit

First Step for a New Chief of Police: Ordering an Evidence Room Audit

Congratulations! You have just been sworn in as a new chief of police. While you will have many opportunities to demonstrate your leadership abilities, ordering an evidence room audit can help set the tone of your administration. It immediately indicates that you value accountability, transparency, and integrity in yourself and your department. This piece focuses on how and why ordering an audit can advance your career and improve the operations of your new agency at the same time. 

1. Integrity

Your personal and professional integrity is now on display for all to see – both inside and outside the department. Ordering an audit shows you are holding your agency accountable for its actions in an area that directly impacts the criminal justice system and the people involved. It demonstrates that you value transparency and serves as an example of your leadership expectations. It also indicates that you are aware of, or want to be made aware, of the challenges your personnel face in today’s evidence room operations.

2. A Learning Opportunity

Depending on your career path, you might need to become more familiar with all the fine details of evidence room operations. Conducting an audit is an excellent way to remind you or make yourself familiar with its operations, laws, standards, and best practices regarding evidence handling and storage. An audit should uncover operational deficiencies and other issues affecting your personnel’s job performance. One example that may surprise you is the sheer volume of evidence stored within your evidence room and its effect on efficient operations.

3. Improving Efficiency and Morale

As noted above, the results of an evidence room audit will identify issues that hinder personnel efficiency, like a lack of necessary equipment, supplies, or space. 

Experienced evidence room personnel know their jobs and do their best with what they have. It’s important to mention that your audit should be presented as a positive step to identify ways to improve and make your personnel’s job more efficient and easier. You may be unable to address every issue immediately, but you can start preparing a plan to do so. 

These personnel could be considered long-lost heroes in many agencies. Often, they work in a facility removed from the central portions of the building and, by its very nature, are isolated from other personnel except for a window to transfer evidence in and out. Many, if not most, evidence rooms are cluttered and can be disorganized due to the amount of evidence stored within them. A new chief who is genuinely interested in making improvements that benefit these long-lost heroes is bound to improve the morale of the personnel assigned there.

4. Risk Mitigation

As a new chief, you must come up to speed on how your department functions. A comprehensive evidence room audit is one process that allows you to accomplish that quickly via an established process – one that’s hopefully been routine for your department over the years. If discrepancies or problems are found, it’s vital for your career and your department’s integrity to be aware of these issues. This knowledge allows you to rectify problems before they become major and taint your career.

5. Community Relations

Another benefit of an immediate audit is improving or maintaining positive community relations. It shows that you believe in transparency and hold your department to the highest standards. It can foster trust between you, your agency, and the community you serve. Taking steps towards building trust within your community is imperative for a new police chief.

6. Legal Compliance

The standards and best practices that govern evidence room operations are much more than guidelines. Included are state laws that must be adhered to preserve evidence integrity and ensure it remains admissible in court. An audit ensures that your personnel follow all the applicable evidentiary laws. 

Discrepancies can reveal training deficiencies or even the need for proper infrastructure, modern equipment, and basic supplies – all of which can affect your personnel’s ability to remain compliant with the law.

7. Audit Option

Consider having an outside organization conduct your audit. There are many private companies located across the country offering this service. They employ law enforcement evidence management experts, some still on the job and others who have retired. These experts have years of hands-on experience conducting comprehensive evidence room audits for numerous agencies. If you have inherited a department with a history of problems in the evidence room – or even if that’s not the case – contracting with an outside organization ensures transparency and accountability. It also demonstrates that you mean business regarding your department’s integrity. 

Conclusion

A new police chief accepts the responsibility for their department’s operations, and learning how it functions is vital. One way they can accomplish this is by ordering an audit of their evidence room. Doing so demonstrates leadership, transparency, and accountability. The results of an audit may uncover discrepancies that must be addressed immediately or serve as a roadmap to more efficient operations. It demonstrates to the public that the department will be transparent in its operations, which can increase public confidence and trust while mitigating the risk of litigation. While there are many professional benefits for a new chief, ordering an audit demonstrates leadership that will also benefit the department’s operations and community.

FORTRESS PLUS SOLUTIONS

Fortress Plus Solutions provides safe, secure, documented transportation, handling, and storage of evidence and property for the long term. If your items require special storage conditions – we provide that. In addition, we offer evidence room audits to help law enforcement maintain best practices and accurate and up-to-date inventory records. In our blog, we post informative articles about privatized long-term storage and the auditing process. To learn more about our services, click here. 

 

The Cost and Challenges of New Evidence Room Construction

The Cost and Challenges of New Evidence Room Construction

Are you a sheriff or police chief whose agency needs more space in your aging evidence room? Are your access control, video, or alarm systems draining that maintenance line item of your budget? What about the HVAC system? Is it providing the varying temperature and humidity levels required for proper evidence preservation? Should we even mention the OSHA requirements regarding ventilation in areas holding biological evidence?

We’ll leave the answers to you. But has the thought of building a new evidence room crossed your mind? Let’s discuss the challenges and costs of new evidence room construction.

Evidence Room Operations

Evidence management is a complex world governed by state and federal laws, standards, regulations, and best practices. Evidence rooms provide, and critical aspects of their operation include:

  • Secure Evidence Storage
    • The very baseline requirement. Evidence must be stored securely in an access-controlled facility.
  • Proper Preservation
    • Many types of evidence require special storage conditions. Evidence rooms should provide environments that will preserve any evidence in their inventories.
  • Chain of Custody
    • Keeping an unbroken chain of custody record is a requirement for the item’s admissibility in court
  • Accessibility
    • Evidence must remain accessible to be sent out for testing and to the investigators working on the case.
  • Legal Compliance
    • Any law enforcement employee who handles evidence must adhere to the many regulations of evidence management. Unfortunately, this compliance can be hindered by the physical inadequacies of the evidence room and its infrastructure.

There are many systems, procedures, and other aspects of evidence management woven throughout the items mentioned above, and all will be necessary components – and challenges – in the construction of a new evidence room. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

SPECIFIC CHALLENGES

1. Budget Constraints 

We start with this challenge because it is the biggest one for any department. Acquiring the funding necessary for new construction or even remodeling of an evidence room, while possible, may take years of planning to come to fruition. Cost considerations include architectural planning, construction, security systems, HVAC, updated computer systems, software, shelving, refrigeration, freezers, and potentially, additional personnel costs to staff the new facility.

2. Facility Design

While most experienced evidence room personnel could tell you the basic design and equipment requirements for a new evidence room, the devil is in the details. Some considerations include the types of evidence stored there, the separate interior environments required for preservation, the security systems needed (access control, alarms, video), and more. If new construction is on the table, the decision-makers would be well-advised to hire an expert consultant to help with the details and costs involved.

3.  Space Considerations

A simple question first. Do you have the space available for new construction? If the answer is no, rebuilding your evidence room, even with all the modern bells and whistles, may leave you with a facility needing more space for the volume of evidence you have on hand – from the get-go. An option is to build up, if possible, but that would significantly increase the overall cost.

4. Legal Compliance

Any new facility must comply with the applicable federal, state, and local laws and evidence management requirements. These mandatory costs will make your construction more complex and add significantly to its cost.

This is by no means a detailed list of the challenges involved in constructing a new evidence room, but it’s a start – if you are thinking about the possibility.

Cost

The cost of constructing a new evidence room would vary widely depending on your department’s location, planned size, agency-specific needs, permit requirements, consultant’s and architect’s fees, materials, and construction costs, among many other factors. A loose estimate would be at least half a million dollars or more.

An Option

There is another option for law enforcement executives to consider. Reputable private companies are offering long-term evidence storage and preservation services. These companies provide real solutions to police agencies grappling with evidence whose volume overwhelms their capacity to store it properly. Private providers have demonstrated their ability to store evidence while adhering to the requirements and regulations of the industry. They scale their services depending on a particular agency’s needs – proving them to be a cost-effective option compared to new construction.

Conclusion

Building a new evidence room is a complex and very costly project. There are many pieces to the construction puzzle, and some to consider are budget constraints, facility design, legal compliance, and the space available for construction. The overall construction cost would prohibit most departments across the country from ever turning a shovel on such a project. There is an option for law enforcement leaders to consider, however. The private sector offers solutions to agencies struggling with inefficient evidence room operations at a fraction of the cost of building a new evidence room.

FORTRESS PLUS SOLUTIONS

Fortress Plus Solutions provides safe, secure, documented transportation, handling, and storage of evidence and property for the long term. If your items require special storage conditions – we provide that. In addition, we offer evidence room audits to help law enforcement maintain best practices and accurate and up-to-date inventory records. In our blog, we post informative articles about privatized long-term storage and the auditing process. To learn more about our services, click here.

Valuable Artwork, Priceless Antiquities, Unique Collections – What’s in YOUR Storeroom?

Valuable Artwork, Priceless Antiquities, Unique Collections – What’s in YOUR Storeroom?

What’s one thing that Chicago’s world-famous museums and art galleries, individual owners of valuable collections, and other organizations that store valuable or even priceless items have in common? They all have the opportunity to keep their precious collectibles in the same facility, with the same safeguards, that many local law enforcement agencies trust with their long-term evidence storage, preservation, management, and even transportation needs.

The parallels between storing evidence for public agencies and storing and preserving priceless artwork and other collectibles are many and essential. This piece discusses those parallels and how Fortress Plus Solutions (FPS) can help museums, art galleries, individuals, and organizations store their valuable items properly and safely – off-site. 

A Quick View of Storing Artifacts, Artwork, Documents, and Other Collectibles

Items of these types can be priceless and extremely valuable in protecting the history and heritage of different populations worldwide. Storing them in a facility that is guaranteed secure is vital.

The physical safety of priceless collectibles goes beyond impenetrable walls, however. Many are delicate in nature and steps to ensure their preservation while in storage must be taken. 

Preservation can include properly packaging or wrapping in preparation for storage, then maintaining the items in differing environments based on their type – throughout the storage lifetime.

Law Enforcement Evidence Storage

Police agencies of all types and sizes have been utilizing privatized, off-site evidence storage facilities for several years now, but those facilities are few and far between in the United States. Until recently, there were none located in the Midwest. That changed with the opening of Fortress Plus Solutions in the Chicago area. FPS offers climate-controlled, secure storage in a facility that’s unmarked, alarmed, (unauthorized entry, fire, climate changes, power loss), video monitored, staffed 24/7, features controlled access, and an inventory management system that tracks and pinpoints the location of the items within their facility. They also provide secure transportation from their client’s location to their facility and back as needed.

The management of criminal case evidence is governed by some of the strictest rules, regulations, laws, and best practices that law enforcement agencies must abide by on a daily basis. This is the way it should be. These rules protect innocent people and help identify the correct criminal suspects.

Fortress Plus Solutions – Business Operations

FPS was founded by and is staffed by law enforcement evidence management experts who know and abide by all the rules, laws, standards, and requirements of proper evidence handling and storage. They operate a new, clean, state-of-the-art facility designed from the ground up to ensure the appropriate preservation and storage of evidence of any type, shape, or size.

It is this diligence and ability to properly preserve and store criminal case evidence that private collectors, museums, art galleries, and other organizations can now take advantage of in keeping their valuable property off-site, no matter its type.

Besides having the know-how and infrastructure to safeguard precious inventories, FPS offers their clients peace of mind, knowing that their property and evidence are safe, secure, appropriately preserved, and easily accessible. 

And they do so in a cost-effective manner. FPS scales its services to meet its client’s needs. Cost-effectiveness is one reason local police agencies are becoming clients. Law enforcement operates with budgets scrutinized by and approved by governing bodies. Government agencies contracting with FPS are a testament to the delivery of their services as promised and their affordability.

Conclusion

For private collectors of precious property, museums and art galleries with priceless inventories, and any organization tasked with storing valuable items, Fortress Plus Solutions is uniquely qualified and prepared to store their items or collections properly and securely – for as long as is needed.

FPS is a private company dedicated to providing law enforcement with evidence management and storage services that meet or exceed all the standards and laws that public safety agencies must legally follow. To do that, they are staffed by experts in their field who operate a facility that is second to none in physical security, internal climate control, evidence tracking systems, and on-site staff, which allows them to constantly monitor all of its systems and respond immediately to any anomalies in any of their operations.

The storage and preservation of valuable works of art, antiquities, historical documents, and more

off-site are now available in the Chicago area. FPS will care for these items in the same resolute and cost-effective manner they do for their law enforcement clients. While evidence in itself may not be priceless, the individuals involved in the criminal justice system would argue otherwise, and Fortress Plus Solutions treats every item in their care as if it were invaluable.

FORTRESS PLUS SOLUTIONS 

Fortress Plus Solutions provides safe, secure, documented transportation, handling, and storage of evidence and property for the long term. If your items require special storage conditions – we provide that. In addition, we offer evidence room audits to help law enforcement maintain best practices and accurate and up-to-date inventory records. In our blog, we post informative articles about privatized long-term storage and the auditing process. To learn more about our services, click here. 

Maintaining Regulatory Compliance: The Role of Inventory Audits in Law Enforcement

Maintaining Regulatory Compliance: The Role of Inventory Audits in Law Enforcement

Maintaining evidence integrity is necessary for any law enforcement agency for many reasons, one being that it’s the law. Along with those federal and state laws come many other regulations, standards, and best practices that agencies must comply with. The sum of those regulations should equal evidence integrity if practiced. 

Evidence room audits are a check and balance procedure for an agency’s operations. Their results demonstrate compliance with regulations, and if discrepancies are found, personnel can address the issues and bring the agency back into compliance.

There are several types of audits. Comprehensive audits are just what they sound like. They examine an evidence room’s operations from top to bottom, including security systems, documentation, tracking systems, equipment, inventories, preservation, policies, and more. Inspections focus on the cleanliness, safety, and functionality of the facility – examining its efficiency and operating effectiveness. Random audits may take a deep dive into just one area of operations or one type of evidence. Inventory audits physically account for the items stored within the facility.

Inventory audits are the focus of this piece, explaining how they help an agency maintain compliance with the law and evidence storage regulations.

Inventory Audits

Inventory audits accomplish more than just an accounting of the items stored in an evidence room. They may reveal issues or problems with documentation, tracking systems, proper preservation, personnel efficiency, and available space to keep evidence. Any of these problems can lead to noncompliance with regulations. 

Vital Compliance Issues

1. Evidence Misplacement or Loss

Inventory audits will reveal misplaced or even lost evidence. Since law enforcement agencies are responsible for safeguarding the items in their custody, their knowledge of these situations is imperative. In some cases, locating a misplaced item is an easy fix, but only in some cases. A missing item might be discovered in an area that allows it to degrade over time. A truly lost or unaccounted-for item is much more problematic. Immediately reporting a lost item is necessary, as is filing a written report on the subject. Either of these situations could negatively affect criminal case outcomes in court and, depending on the type of item lost, critically affect public perception of the agency.

2. Evidence Preservation

 Law enforcement is tasked not just with storing evidence but also with preserving it properly for as long as they have it in their possession. Many types of evidence require special storage conditions, and items not appropriately stored may deteriorate. This situation may make an item useless in an ongoing investigation, impossible for defense attorneys to inspect, or inadmissible in court. Inventory audits may reveal such items, allowing corrective action before their destruction.

3. Chain of Custody 

One of the most critical aspects of evidence management is maintaining an unbroken chain of custody record for each item of evidence. From collection to its presentation in court, every handling or movement of a piece of evidence must be accounted for and documented. Inventory audits demonstrate that a proper chain of custody record has been continuously maintained. 

4. Compliance Documentation

The paper or E-trail generated by audits demonstrates the agency’s commitment to regulatory compliance. If an agency is state or nationally-accredited, these records will be reviewed by the accreditation teams to recertify the agency. Audit records can be used in year-end reports, and exemplary audit results can be the subject of press releases to earn the public’s trust.

Conclusion

Inventory audits are one way law enforcement agencies demonstrate that their evidence room operations remain compliant with the laws and regulations that govern them. While audits can vary in scope, focus, and purpose, they all can reveal discrepancies that can then be addressed. Documenting audit results and their use is an effective way to demonstrate compliance. At the same time, publicizing them helps build trust between the agency and the community it serves.  

FORTRESS PLUS SOLUTIONS

Fortress Plus Solutions provides safe, secure, documented transportation, handling, and storage of evidence and property for the long term. If your items require special storage conditions – we provide that. In addition, we offer evidence room audits to help law enforcement maintain best practices and accurate and up-to-date inventory records. In our blog, we post informative articles about privatized long-term storage and the auditing process. To learn more about our services, click here. 

 

Police Evidence Room Inventories: Demonstrating Accountability Via Audits

Police Evidence Room Inventories: Demonstrating Accountability Via Audits

While a thorough evidence room audit will examine its operations, systems, and security, in most instances, the first benefit that comes to mind is ensuring the inventory is appropriately maintained and accounted for. It’s what police property and evidence rooms do. Regular audits of evidence rooms can uncover discrepancies in inventory management so personnel can correct them, maintaining the integrity of the evidence within the facility and for its use in court. This piece spotlights evidence inventories and how regular audits help law enforcement with their management.

1. CHAIN OF CUSTODY

Establishing and preserving an unbroken chain of custody record for every piece of evidence in law enforcement’s possession is vital. That chain can be long. From the moment it’s collected and packaged, who handles it, when they handle it, its movement, any analysis, to short or long-term storage locations, all must be documented in order of occurrence. There can be no breaks or gaps in the record. This documentation maintains its admissibility in court and allows for easy retrieval when the time comes.   

When focusing on chain of custody, auditors inspect individual pieces of evidence, ensuring their locations match evidence room records. They also ensure chain of custody documentation is present and indicates an unbroken record up to that point. These inspections identify any issues in the chain of custody so they can be promptly investigated and corrected.

2. INVENTORY DISCREPANCIES  

Police property and evidence rooms are not static locations. They can be busy places. Personnel complete many tasks while adhering to complex operational standards and their required documentation. Evidence management is a tall task in any evidence room, but clerical errors and misplacement of items can happen, especially in facilities where items are coming and going constantly. 

Audits identify misplaced or incorrectly documented items. Auditors access the agency’s logs and cross-check the evidence by physical inspection, ensuring the evidence is stored as indicated. Auditors also look to see if it is appropriately labeled and stored. Except for an item stored in an improper environment – which could cause it to degrade – most discrepancies do not negatively affect the evidence’s admissibility at trial if addressed promptly. Regular audits will uncover issues in evidence room inventories and, in most cases, will demonstrate that police evidence room personnel maintain their inventory by adhering to the standards and best practices that govern it.

3. ACCOUNTABILITY 

Transparency and accountability are both crucial in modern law enforcement operations. Considering its impact on criminal case proceedings and justice for those involved, property and evidence rooms are held to the highest standards in their operations. Regular evidence room audits demonstrate that an agency understands the weight of its obligations to the public. The audit process is a means to hold itself accountable and be transparent in the community.

Many police agencies utilize outside organizations that employ evidence management experts to conduct audits of their facilities. These experts take a “top-to-bottom” approach, thoroughly examining the functionality of evidence room systems, their security, policies and procedures, physical plant, documentation, inventories, and compliance with the laws and standards of evidence management. While not precluding internal audits, bringing in an outside organization demonstrates the highest level of accountability and transparency for assigned personnel and evidence room operations.

SUMMARY

Regular evidence room audits should be a standard operating procedure for law enforcement agencies. Maintaining accurate inventories in compliance with all the internal and external standards ensures evidence integrity and prevents challenges to its admissibility in court. Audits examine chain of custody, uncover anomalies in the documentation, handling, and storage of evidence, and serve to hold the agency accountable for its inventory functions. Finding discrepancies in inventory management allows the agency to rectify the problem at that time. And using outside experts to conduct audits adds another layer of credibility and transparency to the auditing process. 

FORTRESS PLUS SOLUTIONS

Fortress Plus Solutions provides safe, secure, documented transportation, handling, and storage of evidence and property for the long term. If your items require special storage conditions – we provide that. In addition, we offer evidence room audits to help law enforcement maintain best practices and accurate and up-to-date inventory records. In our blog, we post informative articles about privatized long-term storage and the auditing process. To learn more about our services, click here.