Changing The Way We Deliver Evidence Management Training

Posted on: Mar 21, 2022

Categories: Uncategorized

“The Evidence Show” is hosted by EMI Executive Director Shawn Henderson. Not to spoil the plot, but The Evidence Show is, well… a show about managing evidence. In each episode we take a look at the unique issues that impact evidence management leaders, evidence custodians and the law enforcement community in general.

Shawn (top image below) began the webinar by saying, “Thank you for being here. We’ll direct your attention to a couple of things that we do at the beginning of each show. First, is the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook. James Nally, (bottom image below) my partner in crime, is good at social media; after much effort over 750 evidence custodians have joined the group and are using it to great effect. 

The forum gives you a place to ask questions and to look for solutions that you might not find on your own. We created the forum to provide a haven where evidence personnel can communicate freely. We started it back at the beginning of the pandemic and we’re glad to see that people are still using it as a powerful resource.

I’d also like to direct your attention to our main partner Tracker Products. This content is made possible because of our affiliation with them. They are an evidence management software solution – that I implemented in my previous life, when I became the supervisor for “the evidence unit that time forgot” – and I highly recommend that you check them out. They keep the lights on here, and we are very appreciative of that.

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Independent client testimonials from the article below: 

RELATED: FROM AN ARCHAIC EVIDENCE TRACKING SYSTEM, TO STATE-OF-THE-ART 

‘Before we had SAFE, our evidence management system was archaic; it was like Atari versus Xbox. Tracker Products’ SAFE software fits our needs. Now we can easily enter property and evidence, track it, and run more in-depth reports. For example, we now have the ability to narrow our research for: sex assault kits, robbery cases, drug or murder cases, etc.’

‘Basically, our decision to go with Tracker Products was two-fold. One, we really felt that SAFE could give us the accountability we needed… when we needed it. And they had a solid customer base within our state, who seemed to be very pleased with the product. Those for me were more than enough to switch. Oh… and the customer service is second to none.’

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Okay, moving on…

As you may know, we’re passionate about connecting you with other evidence custodians. In addition to joining the Evidence Management Community Forum, we also suggest that you reach out to your State Property and Evidence Associations. They are one of the best resources for evidence custodians out there. If you don’t have a state association, let us know and we can help you establish one. This is more than an offer of advice, we will be with you every step of the way. 

Our topic for today is, Changing the way we deliver evidence management training. As a training company, in order for us to accomplish our objective, we have to start thinking a little differently about how we deliver training. After much consideration, and countless brainstorming sessions, I think that we have found a unique solution that will resonate with evidence custodians. This includes the way that training will be funded, so that evidence management training can be widely available to evidence custodians nationwide. 

A Little Backstory

Before we dive in deeper, let’s go back 10 years. Ten years ago, I was on the State Evidence Board in Texas. I really loved working with that group of people and decided that I wanted to do things differently… within the Carrollton Police Department Evidence Unit that I managed at the time, and in a more expansive way in the future. 

Hence the launch of the Evidence Management Institute (EMI) in 2018. Our mission is to engineer a change in the law enforcement culture with respect to property and evidence management; one that will ensure justice for all stakeholders in the process. In order to achieve that, we elevate evidence management practices via training and consulting nationwide.

At EMI, James and I are both extremely passionate about evidence management. Unfortunately, as we teach and consult across the country, we see the same problems, and the same issues, over and over again. So, rather than using the same old approach to fixing the same old problems – educating one evidence unit at a time – we’re trying something new. 

In 2022, our goal is to teach larger groups of evidence custodians the right thing to do when it comes to managing evidence. Our training will help evidence custodians on a much grander scale; including ways to create sustainable, effective, and efficient evidence operations within their agency. In order to ensure your evidence unit maintains the integrity of evidence and creates an unbreakable chain of custody, we include a 360º Total Evidence Management Solution in our 2-day evidence management curriculum.   

RELATED: “Core Values” VideoTo help you understand the mission of the training. (3min.)

The Challenge and the Change

One of the things that we found throughout the years – and this should be no surprise because we’ve both been in this arena for a long time – is that when we’re trying to get people to come to training classes, we hear very similar things over and over again… Our agency either can’t or won’t fund training. 

From our perspective, we thought… Who are the people that we really need to reach the most? Probably those who are too under-funded or under-equipped to attend training. That’s a very specific problem that we wanted to solve. How do we reach those people? How do we make training more accessible? 

We started with FREE online training classes, but there is nothing that really replaces in-person training. Not just because there is a more expansive curriculum, and a deeper dive into the subject material, but also because in live-training classes you can get immediate feedback from us and your peers. If you don’t understand a topic or how something might work at your agency, you can talk to an actual human being. You can also hang out and network with people that are in your position, dealing with the same problems that you’re dealing with.

So, our goal in 2022 is to provide FREE in-person training and FREE certification in large-group settings. I believe our 2-day training class is the best training curriculum available for law enforcement evidence custodians, today.

RELATED: “Six Essential Skills for Evidence Custodians” Video (3 min.)

 Free for Evidence Custodians, but Somebody Has to Pay

We come at it from a very different angle. We want to help people solve problems. We’re very much geared toward training attendees the way adults prefer to learn… by teaching them how to solve their own problems with real-time solutions. We are prepared to get this educational model in front of as many people as we possibly can, with the goal of helping as many people as we possibly can in the process. 

The trouble with that nice notion is we have to be able to fund it. So, we’ve changed our business model. We realized that state and local law enforcement agencies are probably not going to be able to send the people to training who need it the most.

So, we came at it a different way… What if we partnered with very specific, justice-centric industries that have a vested interest in supporting the efforts of evidence custodians? For us, it was a win-win concept. Evidence custodians get free training, and sponsors get to sit in on the sessions to gain a better understanding of specific evidence management challenges. 

Sponsors will also have a short window of time – between 30 – 60 minutes, on day two – to talk about how their products or services can solve evidence management challenges, once and for all. Don’t worry, these are NOT sales pitches. These are vetted vendors. Ones who have actually solved a lot of the problems that James and I have run into in the past; either as evidence management personnel, or as evidence management trainers. 

Sponsers – Not a Sales Pitch, a Solution

For example, when I first started managing the evidence unit for the Carrollton Police Department, they still used a pen and paper evidence management system. The antiquated system had officers complete a property report on a piece of paper and that piece of paper was turned into the evidence unit. It was then transcribed by a clerk and that clerk put everything into the system. That meant, one person was responsible for logging all of the evidence for a 160 person department!

RELATED: WHAT AN EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM CAN DO, THAT PEN AND PAPER CAN’T!

It was archaic, ineffective, and a massive time-waster. But, I didn’t realize how that seriously impacted our evidence operations – how it slowed us down to a snail’s pace – until I literally looked at a backlog of 13 linear feet of vertical files of paperwork that needed to be updated and put into the system.

We realized that we needed to leverage different resources to help with our data backlog, but first we had to find and source a technology solution that was going to become a single-source database. But, most evidence tracking systems on the market at the time weren’t much more than glorified inventory control systems. 

We wanted a system capable of producing an unbreakable chain of custody, providing documentation of evidence movement and transfer, managing the flow of digital evidence, facilitating communication between investigators and property room personnel, automating the disposal approval process and automating accountability functions like audits and inventories.

That’s when we brought Tracker Products’ SAFE evidence-tracking software onboard.

It took no time at all to understand the system, but it took us a good six months of data entry – done by volunteers and officers that were on light duty – in order to knock out that data backlog. When it was finally done, it was huge for us because it gave us the tools we needed to eventually perform an inventory – the first one in 50 years – and we finally started getting rid of evidence that was eligible for disposition. 

If you’d like to learn more about how that decision came to fruition, we wrote a blog about it called: The Evidence Vault That Time Forgot. It really was an incredible journey; a massive change for the better. 

So, for now, our primary partner is Tracker Products. But, we’re working on bringing other vendors within the law enforcement community. For example, there are some fantastic smart locker solutions, superior packaging vendors, and cutting edge narcotic disposition solutions.  

Right now, we’re budgeting our training resources based on what is provided from these sponsors. That’s who’s going to pay for your training. So, it’s FREE to YOU, but it’s gonna cost somebody something. LOL! 

We are going to be very diligent about only partnering with reputable industry leaders, but we’ll also target state associations. I think there is a huge incentive for state associations to offer free training to their membership. It’s a great way to deal with evidence management in general and with state specific issues as well. 

So, we’re partnering with associations and with vetted industry leaders to meet the needs of this very niche market. We guarantee that the small amount of time they have to talk about their solutions will be as beneficial to you as the rest of the training.  

RELATED: “Evidence Management Institute Training Differentiators” – Testimonial Video (2 min)

We’ve Been There  

Having been in your shoes, we know that your job as an evidence custodian can be fairly discouraging. But, when you think about everything you’re managing in your evidence facility, and how critical it is that you maintain the chain of custody, so that the evidence is useful – to convict the guilty or exonerate the innocent – then you’ve got to keep doing what you’re doing… only better!

I’ve been in a lot of property rooms across the country and the responsibility can be daunting. It can feel hopeless, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. We really feel like we’re in the same boat, rowing with you. So, my words of the day for you… Keep going, keep improving, keep learning, even when you’re discouraged. 

I know that many of you are probably sitting in an evidence vault, or an office adjacent to an evidence vault, and you probably have a huge mess that constantly keeps growing along with the fear that it seems insurmountable. It seems like a challenge that can never be overcome. That’s a legitimate fear. We’ve both been there, but we did overcome the challenges, and we can help you do it too. 

Class Details

The first class is coming up quickly. We’ll be in Houston, Texas on April 19th and 20th. If you’re in or near the area at that time, we suggest you sign up now. If you visit that link, you can also see the rest of the scheduled classes through mid-September, or simply find some more information. At the moment, there are six confirmed training classes (one class in California already has more than 30 registrants), but we will continue to add additional locations throughout the year. So, keep checking in!

***Please note: This is highly coveted training, and classes are filling up quickly. We will be capping the number of classes we offer in 2022 to a maximum of 12. So, we encourage you to sign up today.

If you’re interested in attending a class, but there are none scheduled near you, please contact us. We would love to hear from you. Bear in mind, we will have to review the potential of each location that is proposed. Our goal is to not only train you, but to connect you with as many evidence custodians as possible. So, the more metropolitan, the better.

RELATED: “ Interactive Learning” – Testimonial Video (1 min)     

Remember, there is no cost to you or your agency when you attend these classes. In order for these training sessions to be successful, and for you to be able to enjoy the benefits of networking with a community of like-minded evidence custodians, we’re aiming for packed-houses. That being said, due to budget constraints, we have to draw a line somewhere. So, we’re looking at venues that can host up to 50 people. 

As we previously mentioned, one of the classes in California already has over 30 participants. So, if you’re serious about upping your evidence management game, please be sure to sign up as soon as possible, or contact us if you would like to request that we arrange a class closer to you. 

BTW, if we have more interest than we have seats, we will start a waiting list. In order to provide this training, and to do it for free, we’re going to have an online application process where your agency will agree to send you to training for 2 days. We are also going to have to limit these training classes to three people from a particular agency, just so we don’t get 50 people from one major metropolitan PD. Everyone that’s signed up for this class, will get an email about the registration process and the training dates. We will continue to send out new information as it becomes available. 

This training is designed and intended for people that are experienced evidence custodians. But, if you’re relatively new to evidence management, you’re welcome too. Just be prepared to take a LOT of notes. LOL!

RELATED“Not a Sales Pitch” – Testimonial Video (2 min) 

In the classes, we talk about the best practices of every-day evidence management. But, we also talk about specific problem solving tools and techniques that you can employ in your agency when dealing with things that are just slightly out of the norm. 

It seems like every evidence unit, regardless of size, has at least one or two items every month that come in that they just don’t know what to do with. Or, they have a situation that comes up that they’ve never dealt with before. We teach practical approaches to problem solving that can be applied to everyday practices and outlier issues.

Why Live-Classes are Better Than Online  

I had someone ask me the other day. What’s the difference between your online class(es) and your two-day in-person class? I thought that was an excellent question. And, it is worthy of an answer here, at a time when we’re talking about training. 

The online classes started because we couldn’t do in-person training when the whole world shut down during the pandemic. Everyone was isolated, and we had training classes scheduled that we had to cancel. So, we felt we had to put something out there, a resource that people could use when in-person training wasn’t feasible. We wanted to provide some free, high-quality training online, but our online classes are only a total of seven hours. Our 2-Day classes, on the other hand, are 16 hours – eight hours each day. So, the online curriculum is significantly abridged.

RELATED: “Class Take Away” – Testimonial Video (2 min) 

In live classes, we try to cover a wide base of topics that are important for people to understand, and we really believe that the best training happens in the context of the classroom. It’s difficult – maybe it’s just because I’m old – but I don’t learn as well online.

Custody is a broad topic and it takes time to dig deep into that topic. The 2-Day Class is a much fuller, richer curriculum that covers every aspect of evidence management, from cradle to grave – from submission all the way through to disposition. The live-classes provide that in-person context that creates a dialogue with instructors and other evidence custodians that you can network with… long after the 2-Day class ends. 

I just don’t see live training being replaced by online training unless the world shuts down again. So, that’s why we believe that in-person training is a much better way to absorb information, rather than online.

Again, our industry partners like Tracker Products help us cover the costs to meet the needs in select areas. There are a few states we’d love to bring our classes to: Florida, Oregon, and Colorado, to name a few. We would like to get those booked fairly quickly, so we can firm up our training schedule and make sure that the classes are sponsored appropriately. That way, we can provide outstanding, free training to the areas that would benefit the most.” 

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 webinars here. Or – to get in on the discussion, with over 750 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.