Evidence Management Associations – Why You Need One in Your State

Posted on: Apr 27, 2023

Categories: Uncategorized

In this episode, Shawn hit on a mixed bag of topics, including establishing evidence management state associations in states where none currently exist.

Shawn Henderson began the webinar by saying, “I like to start with the same kind of shout-outs that we begin with every week. First, we just reached like 800 participants for this little webinar! Secondly, I would like to draw your attention to our Facebook Evidence Management Community Forum. This is something that we started back during the Apocalypse of the Pandemic, just to give people a private place and a forum for evidence managers and evidence custodians to discuss things and connect.

That’s still going strong, with over 1000 members. We facilitate some conversations where we can provide insight or input. But really, the benefit is having a place to talk to other people that do what you do and work in the same kind of industry and environment. It also gives you a chance to connect. There are a lot of experts out there, but there’s nothing quite like having someone that is in your shoes to help you deal with problems that you are currently dealing with. 

Also, I’d like to give a shout-out to Tracker Products. They keep the lights on for us, and that partnership has been going strong now for three years. They are an evidence management software provider. 

Evidence management

So what are we talking about today? We’re calling this episode A 100 Reasons Not To Do It, but not one good one. And this is gonna be a little bit of a soapbox. I’m gonna try to continue to implore people to participate in the one thing that will make a difference in the culture of evidence management in our industry more than any other thing. 

Short of intake and disposition. The one thing that can help move us forward as an industry and help us change the culture around evidence for everyone are state associations for evidence management custodians. 

Right now, there are only 13 state evidence associations throughout our nation. And for those of you that are counting at home, let’s do the math. 50 minus 13 means that 37 states don’t have an evidence management association – not including DC or Puerto Rico or Guam, or especially the Caribbean.

Evidence Management Associations

If we can help one state at a time to create an association, I think it magnifies the impact of evidence, custodians, and the reach that we can have as an industry.

It is worth the time. It is worth the investment. If you’re in California, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, Missouri, Minnesota, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Colorado, or Oregon, you are in a fortunate minority in our country, You have a state association that you could belong to, and participate in, that will help you be better at your job. 

I have visited with representatives of many of these associations, and there is no substitute for that kind of organization. That’s why we put energy into expanding that effort and why we wanna see more of them.

We helped Missouri create a foundation. That’s a long process. It’s not an easy feat. It’s a challenge, and there will be some disappointment along the way, but it is worth it, I promise you. There are a couple of states that have been on my radar for the last year and a half. I’ve had people from Indiana and Ohio express an interest in starting an association. I’ve had the same kind of interest in Oklahoma. 

I also wanna say, if you’re in one of the 13 states with an evidence association, make sure you participate in that state association. And by participate, I mean, get involved. Go to the conferences, go to the training, or volunteer for the board. Do something because it matters to our long-term success as an industry. 

I know a lot of the folks running these organizations. I was on the board of directors at TAPIT, years and years ago, and I was on the board of IAPE for a while. It takes a lot of work to pull these types of things off, especially state associations that are running on volunteer hours and volunteer resources. They need your help. They need you to pitch in. So even if you’re in a state with an association, I promise you that they can use your help. 

It is really difficult to find people interested in involving themselves at a state association for any length of time. I mean, you know, as well as I do, people get transferred in and out of these jobs all the time. That means we need people to help and participate. 

If you’re in one of those states that doesn’t have an association and you’re thinking to yourself, Man, I wish we had something like that at our state. You can, but it’s gonna require work. 

At EMI, we’ve got a program where we will help facilitate setting up these organizations. We do it because we think it’s the right thing to do. We don’t wanna run your association. We want zero control. But, we feel so strongly about this, it is something that has to happen if things are ever gonna change. 

So, the first thing we do as an organization is to identify people in states that want to start an evidence management association, and we start connecting them. The second thing we do is host an event where we get these people connected in a room, actual human beings meeting face-to-face.

And then, we will talk about our vision for state associations. We’ll help you create bylaws, we’ll help you to create an organizational structure, and we’ll help you develop your own board of directors that is in charge of your organization exclusively. 

The thing that is most difficult for a new organization to get off the ground is finding the finances. I have been the fortunate beneficiary of a partnership that keeps the lights on for me, and we try to pay that forward. And we will do the same for your association. 

We will pay to get you filed as an official entity with the state. We will pay attorney fees to get you legal as a 501C3 educational, not-for-profit organization with the IRS. And then it’s up to you to make it successful.

Colleen Dean in Texas, you probably don’t know her, but she’s a legend here in Texas. She’s like the Nolan Ryan of TAPIT. She was in an evidence class somewhere in the vast state of Texas, sitting around talking with other people, and she had this idea, Hey, why don’t we start an association? And she did. And she’s retired now. But, it starts with somebody, and it starts somewhere. And it can often start in an EMI class where there are other people sitting around thinking, Man, wouldn’t it be cool if we had our own little association?

Our calendar this year will run almost year-round with evidence management training classes. So, if you’re interested in hosting a class, reach out. We would love to be there. We’re also going to – and this is top secret – roll out something completely different with respect to training. I don’t think that there is going to be an experience like it anywhere in the known universe. And it’s all James’ idea. One of the things I love about working with James is that he has a lot of great ideas. I’ve had maybe three in the last 17 years.

So that’s it. Training is coming back. I have loved being in person doing live training with humanoids. There’s no substitute for state associations, and there’s no substitute for live in-person training. 

Getting people in a room where they can talk to one another and solve their problems… I mean, most of the benefits of a live training experience are the interactions, questions, and follow-up questions that you hear as a result of people being in the room, working in the same geographic location, and dealing with the same things. It’s just fun. It’s a lot of fun. 

But, James and I are weird. We think talking about evidence tape is fun. So maybe our view of fun is different than yours. But we would love to see you in a class. 

Okay, switching gears now…

Evidence Management

So, I wanna throw out a challenge, and there are several ways that you can fulfill it. I just want to see if anybody takes it upon themselves to do one of these three things to move us forward ever so slightly as a profession. 

One of those – if you live in a state that has an evidence association, and you’re not a member – join that organization. That’s one randomly kind thing that you can do both for yourself and for your agency and for your industry that will make a difference. So if you’ve been on the sidelines, just join that association. It’s worth it, I promise you. 

The second option – let’s say you’re already a member of one of these associations, or you might be in a state where they don’t have an association – make a charitable donation to one of these 501C3’s that is more than deserving of your patronage. If you send them a charitable donation, let us know. I think that would be cool. 

All of these state associations need your support. Even the big ones… CAPE in California and PEAF in Florida. Everyone has been impacted by the pandemic. Everyone has been impacted at the finance level and at the participation level. So it doesn’t matter which association, help ’em out. Give some operating capital. Doesn’t matter the amount. We just wanna see if people will do it. 

And then the third way to do it, if you don’t wanna make a charitable donation… if you’re already a member, volunteer to serve on the board. If you don’t wanna volunteer to serve on the board, volunteer to serve somewhere. Participate, engage. 

If you’ll do one of those three things, to support a state association, in the next episode of this particular webinar series we will pull back the curtain. It’ll be the behind-the-scenes episode of the Evidence Show, where you’ll get to see how I really dress when I’m not wearing the same starched and ironed shirt, and the backdrop is removed to show what my “studio” really looks like. 

Evidence Management

The last thing we wanna do before we wrap up, is to talk about, Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Evidence Management.

So if you have an evidence-related question, that has something to do with the wheelhouse of this show, now’s the time to ask it. Go ahead and type it in the question window, and we’ll try to answer it. 

Okay, we have a question. Ooh, this is a good one… What do you do with items which have lost the chain of custody? That’s a great question! It really depends on how much of that chain of custody is lost and the type of case that you are dealing with.

So, keep both of those things in mind when we discuss this. Chain of custody is that thing that allows us to testify to that particular item’s value as evidence. With no chain of custody, we lose the value of that evidence almost entirely. And I will give you an example. 

In most property rooms across the country, there is a pile of tire irons and four-way jacks, maybe old car stereos, where the label has fallen off, and you don’t have the chain of custody. You don’t have any information to document that item. I would say, generally speaking, that that item has lost almost all of its value as evidence because you can’t prove that that is the actual item tied to that case. 

Two, you can’t prove the custody history of that item. Which means you can’t prove, much less attest to the fact, that that item hasn’t been tampered with. So when you’ve got those two conditions, when you’ve got an item that is no longer, no longer possesses a chain of custody, it no longer has value as evidence because of those reasons. 

Most of the time, my recommendation is some type of administrative memo where you can dispose of that item. There are a lot of different permutations, so don’t just take what I’m telling you here on the interweb and throw all that stuff away.

It still needs to be entered into the system. You need to reestablish the chain of custody of that item. It’s dead for court. I mean, any competent attorney would destroy that evidence on the lack of chain of custody alone. That’s why the chain of custody is so important. But we still need to do the right thing with it. We still need to document that it existed. 

At some point, you might be able to piece together a chain of custody. You might be able to find the chain of custody that was missing. So it’s not always appropriate to just go straight to a disposition. I would wait until you’ve done a full inventory of your evidence vault before I would administratively dispose of anything like that because you’re gonna find things that you can create loose associations with. 

They don’t still have the value that they would if they were needed for court, but there’s probably still some limited merit in keeping those items.

Before we move to the next question, James has another great suggestion…Write either a follow-up report or a memo to explain how you believe that that chain of custody was corrupted. Was it data loss? Was it a file? Was it paper files? Was it packaging or labeling chain of custody? Try to establish as much as you can about that. 

If it’s just one item, you might be able to salvage the other items. If it’s all items in the case, you be in a world of hurt. But, your chief needs to know that that kind of thing happens. It might not be your fault, and it might not have happened on your watch, but it is certainly a reason to make a chief or chief executive or sheriff think more critically about their operations and exactly what they’re responsible for as a chief executive. 

So, I’ve got a couple more questions… What’s the best way to dispose of bicycles? At this particular agency, they’re unable to donate them because of liability issues. 

That would’ve been my first answer. I wish I’d stopped reading the question after donate. Pretty much what you’re doing is probably the best thing to do with it. Scrapyard or donate. 

If you can’t donate a bicycle to a charitable organization that can be reused and repurposed, you can consider auctions. Most of your larger, especially your online auctions, don’t really do bicycles anymore because they’ve got a gazillion bicycles that they can’t sell. 

I don’t wanna be responsible for selling bicycles. I don’t wanna invest the time that it would take to get $15 for a bicycle that’s gonna be placed in the general fund of the municipality where I work. It’s not worth it.

So we would recommend, recycling, scrapping, or donating either something altruistic or something that is quick and gets it out of your vault. 

We’ve got another question… What software do most evidence rooms use for managing the evidence? Or which do you see is the best? 

Well, that’s a great question. I would say, generally speaking, the best software for managing evidence is it’s going to be an evidence management system. Now there are a couple of key players in that market. One of them keeps the lights on for me, Tracker Products. I would really encourage you to talk to them and, and give them a shout. They will be more than happy to take your call and more than happy to show you their software. 

I try to remain as agnostic as possible when I teach classes. So, there are basically two major software vendors out there for evidence managers. There’s Tracker Products and FileOnQ, there are other smaller players out there, but I’m biased. So, look at all of them. Make your own decision. 

The most important thing that you have to keep in mind is that you need a system that’s gonna meet your needs and is gonna make you more sustainable, more efficient, and more effective. You should have a checklist when you’re searching for evidence management software. It’ll help you understand what you need out of a system and the things that you need to improve upon in your particular evidence vault. 

Take that list, and compare it to the standards and best practices that we’ve established at the Evidence Management Institute. And, when you find one that meets your needs and your department is willing to pay for it, that’s the one you should go for. 

The reason that I advocate for an evidence management software system, like the ones that Tracker Products offer – a standalone evidence management software system, that’s not part of an ad hoc RMS system – is because evidence management systems are designed and intended to automate evidence rooms and provide workflow and automation for the work that you do as an evidence custodian. That’s not what an RMS is. A records management system is great at managing records. Evidence management, probably not so much. And, if you don’t know exactly what those needs are, we’ve got a lot of resources online.

I know that Tracker Products also has a lot of educational and training material that’s pretty unbiased. They’re willing to just tell you, Hey, this is what to look for if somebody else does it better, go with them. We think transparency is the absolute best path forward.”

Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to contribute to your ongoing education through… a series of FREE online evidence management training classes. Watch and comment on the Tracker Products webinars here. Check out The Evidence Show! And to get in on the discussion, with over 1000 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook. 

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