Changing the Landscape of Evidence Management Training

Posted on: Jan 15, 2021

Categories: Uncategorized

In this webinar, Shawn Henderson, of the Evidence Management Institute, (pictured below) discusses why training matters, what needs to change, and the things great training provides. Shawn goes on to explain the opportunity for free online evidence management training.

Shawn began by saying, “We’re going to talk today about changing the landscape of evidence management training and do some things that move the needle in the right direction.

But first, I want to talk about the landscape as it presently exists. Usually, there are all kinds of training options out there, but right now none of them are operating because of COVID. So, for me, it’s a great time to take a step back and reflect on how we train, why we train, what we train, and what we can do differently. I also want to define what great training provides. More critically, what can you do if you can’t get training? And then, we’ll talk a little bit about what you can do to make a difference, with respect to training, starting today.

I can’t stress it enough… training matters because what you do every day, as an evidence manager, matters. What you do is important. What you do protects and safeguards the integrity of evidence. And without that function in law enforcement, justice doesn’t happen. You possess the power to safeguard evidence that can exonerate the innocent, that can convict the guilty, and that speaks for victims of crime who can’t tell their story.

The work that you do is part of building a continuing legacy of integrity for your agency. I can’t think of one area of law enforcement where so many different factors come together. In order to be successful as an evidence custodian, you’ve got to have an extremely high baseline level of knowledge that includes law enforcement but goes beyond it.

When I went to the Police Academy, it was all about Velcro, shooting things, learning the laws, and keeping my boots shine. There was nothing in the Police Academy training that prepared me to be an evidence custodian. So, there’s no direct correlation between your normal training as a police officer and the training that you need as an evidence manager. And the learning curve for evidence management is incredibly steep. 

When I teach, I tell people that this class – and evidence management classes in general – are like taking a drink from a fire hose. It’s a lot of information to digest in a very short period of time. I don’t have this measured scientifically, but I feel like it takes probably 18 months in the job to really understand what you’re doing. And that’s with the benefit of some formal evidence management training. Without that, I can’t imagine what it’s gotta be like for people. 

Another reason that training matters is because of liability. Agency has a liability for your actions, personally. Failure to train is one of those mechanisms that can make your agency liable for your actions. If you make a decision as an evidence manager and you’ve got no formal training in evidence management, that decision entirely belongs to you. Receiving training shields you from liability. It gives you a foundation to work from. 

Training matters because it helps raise awareness of standards and best practices. If you don’t attend some type of training, your level of awareness about industry standards for evidence management is going to lack.

For me, one of the most important things about training is regionalization. I teach classes across the country. I’ve taught West Coast to East Coast for several years. I think they’re great classes. But, every state, every jurisdiction, every municipality, and every county is slightly different. It is incredibly important to have training that is regionalized because all the politics are local. I mean, you’re going to be dealing with state statutes and you need training on those statutes, on those laws, and on the way your county operates.

I know that if I continue to teach the same class, the same way year, in and year out the relevancy is going to evaporate. So, I focus on what I need to change and what needs to change with respect to evidence management. The audience for evidence management training for evidence custodians, peace officers, anybody involved with a touch point in the evidence room really doesn’t change, but there are a lot of other things that could benefit from some polishing up. 

When we look at what needs to change, I think our focus needs to change. Much of the evidence management training that is available to you is very focused on what police officers will or won’t do. That is wasted time. We need to focus on what’s the best thing to do for that piece of evidence. How do we preserve chain of custody for that item?

In the industry’s current model, a lot of training platforms are very focused on the past. We need to let that go and focus on the future. Training needs to be solutions focused.

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I would also like to see a shift in focusing on power versus influence. That’s something that’s become incredibly important to me over the years as an officer. Working in evidence management, I realized that I might not be able to have power, but I can have influence

I have to make sure, as a training provider, that the content I provide is relevant to the people that are sitting in the class. We need to focus our time on how to create an environment where solutions are possible. I believe that content needs to be standards driven. If the content that we teach is not based on some foundation of standards, then we’re really on shaky ground.

I think, most importantly, the thing that needs to change as training providers is… we’ve got to provide resources for our students. People should walk out of our training with enough resources to help them get started on their own. And, by resources, I mean we need to be providing policy examples, procedure examples. 

Our training needs to become engaging and interactive. We need to pay attention to multiple learning styles. I spent a lot of time as an educator before I was a cop. Not everyone learns in a classroom lecture environment; listening to somebody talk at them for 16 hours. We’ve got to get people out of their seats. 

Another thing is, we should look at training as a community building experience instead of just content delivery. It’s a unique environment when you get evidence custodians in a room together, right? That gives you the unique opportunity to build some community. Great training is relevant. It’s comprehensive, it’s engaging, it’s interactive. It is standards driven. Great training also provides insight into your local environment. 

But, what do you do if you can’t get training? I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people and they want to come to a training class, but their agency won’t let civilians travel state lines for training. So, if your agency won’t send you to training, how do you get training? The first thing I would ask you to do is to begin to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to you right now. The Facebook Community Forum is a great resource if you leverage it appropriately. If you’ve got questions that you want to ask an evidence manager, that forum is ready built to answer them. 

There are also free internet resources out there – and we’ll talk about one here in just a second – but there are lots of training resources that are available online. I would also recommend spending some time with NIST, the National Institute for Standards and Technology.

There are also state evidence management associations. If they don’t provide regional training, most of them have members that are willing to partner, train, and teach people on a one to one basis. So, being involved in your state association is incredibly important and it’s a great way to take advantage of some training that you might not otherwise have access to. 

You can also read existing policies and procedures. I know everyone loves to do that, but the more time you spend reading state laws, policies, procedures, it’s going to yield dividends for you in the future.

We have also started a free online training class. It’s an eight hour training class. It covers the basics of evidence management. No, this is not intended to replace two day live training events, but if you’ve never had a baseline of knowledge, we wanted to provide an opportunity that hasn’t existed before. It’s comprehensive, relevant, and is based on best practices. It provides a stable backbone as far as the curriculum is concerned. And we even do an online exam and a completion certificate. We feel that strongly in the importance of evidence training and we’re willing to offer it for free as a resource for evidence managers regardless of where you are.

And, this is not something that’s going to be entirely driven by the Evidence Management Institute. James Nally is going to help with some webinars in this series. James has a company that does training on the West Coast; Chain of Custody Pros is their website. We’re also going to work together with other training providers. This is going to be people working together for the benefit of the evidence management community because it makes sense; because it’s the right thing to do.

I really think that’s something that’s going to move the needle and help change the culture of evidence management in the future. The vision that we had was, if someone is new in evidence management and their agency can’t send them for six months, or a year – or they flat out won’t send them to any training whatsoever – we could provide a baseline level of knowledge of their craft – and of the industry – that’s going to make a meaningful difference in the way they’re able to work. The free training is now posted on the website and people can have access to 24/7. 

But, if you already know this stuff, there are a few things that I would encourage you to do. The first would be to teach. Share your knowledge. If you’re an expert in evidence management, reach out and share your knowledge with others. If you have been working in this industry for a while – and you’re knowledgeable – there’s probably someone in the city or county next to you that is not comfortable; that is not knowledgeable. 

Reach out to them. Just see how they’re doing. See if they have questions. Make yourself available to them. That helps build community. Share your successes, share your solutions. One of the first things that I saw in there – that got James now on my radar – was that the packaging guide. I thought that’s amazing. That was something that I would have never naturally come up with on my own.

If you know of agencies out there that don’t have the resources to train, point them to this eight hour training course, tell them it’s free, it’s online, it’s available. It is at no cost to them. You can raise awareness. We would love to partner with people in the evidence management community and have this become a collaborative effort that involves many more voices than just ours.” 

Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to give you something productive to think about during this time of uncertainty… a series of free evidence management training and panel discussions. Watch and comment on the recordings here, or – to get in on the discussion – join the Evidence Management Community Forum.