Evidence Management Tour – Live(ish) from Huntington Beach – Part 1

Posted on: Mar 28, 2022

Categories: Evidence Training

In this episode of The Evidence Show, we take an Evidence Management Room tour of the HBPD evidence operations, meet some great people, and take a look at how things work on the west coast. 

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 evidence. In each episode, we take a look at the unique issues that impact evidence managers, custodians, and the law enforcement community in general.

Shawn began the episode by saying, “Our primary goal is to get evidence custodians and evidence managers around the country connected in order to build a sense of community and have a place where you can get questions answered.

It helps to see how things are done differently in different regions around the country. One of the best ways to connect with the evidence management community is to go onto Facebook and join the Evidence Management Community Forum. It’s a great place to get questions answered,  post and talk about things, and discover some unique solutions to problems.

I got a call yesterday from Nebraska and this particular agency has about 200 pounds of fentanyl that they need to dispose of, but they’ve got no resources. They’re willing to drive as far as Texas or Oklahoma to get rid of this stuff. So, the evidence management community forum is a great place to log in to at least find out what other people do.

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Every single one of us is going to be faced with a problem that we’ve never seen before. 200 pounds of fentanyl? The FB Forum is a great place to throw the question out. That’s one of the main benefits of that forum… just having a place to ask those weird questions. So, log in early and often. 

Also, I want to give a shout-out to Tracker Products. They’re an evidence management software company, and this free online training is possible because they help to make it possible. I always like to mention that before I begin, because they keep the lights on, and there’s tremendous value in that. 

James and I are with the Evidence Management Institute. We do training and consulting and we would be more than happy to do one or both with you and your agency.

This episode today is really James’ brainchild. Together, we’re going to do a cool agency spotlight. I’ll throw it over to James to discuss the main topic and talk about our special guest today. After you introduce the guest, James, just tell me when to roll the slide forward and I will do that.”

James said, “By the way, training with Shawn is incredible. The content is not just about what you’re doing, but it’s about the right way to do things. Coming from a more passionate perspective, you should take a look at his standards and best practices. It’s just an amazing class.

As far as our new segment called Agency Spotlight, I think I think everyone will enjoy this. It started from an idea a long time ago, back when I was participating with CAPE, the California Association for Property and Evidence. I was hearing the same things as we traveled around the state… complaints about, We never get enough training, we are understaffed. All the unfortunate, negative things that go with our industry. 

I really wanted to provide a platform to let agencies share the positive things that they do. Whether they have a really cool process or some kind of a tech that they use that helps create efficiency in their workplace.

We created Agency Spotlight to give different property rooms a platform to showcase anything special in their unit. Today, we’re going to be taking a look at Huntington Beach Police. And, we have a special guest today. Melissa Hartley is the property evidence supervisor, and a long-time friend of mine.  

She’s always been passionate about evidence and she’s been involved with the CAPE in the Orange County chapter. And she’s also a LEAIC certified inspector for auditing. 

Welcome, Melissa. Thank you for participating in our first agency spotlight. I don’t think I’d want to have a different city to premier Agency Spotlight because Huntington Beach is such a unique town. Do you want to talk a little bit about it before we roll the video?”

Melissa said, “We are a coastal town and we have a pretty large population in our city. We have 197,000 regular residents here. In the summertime, our population increases to over a million people daily.”

James said, “Wow. That’s crazy! Shawn, if you’re ready, I think we should go ahead and get the Agency Spotlight roll in there.”

Shawn laughed and said, “All right. This is brand new, so I’m sure it’s going to work perfectly.”

Shawn played a video, in which James said, “James Nally here with Evidence Management Institute, and I’m excited to welcome you to the first episode of Agency Spotlight. EMI’s Agency Spotlight is all about providing a platform to showcase something special in your property and evidence unit. Maybe you have some cool technology, special types of storage systems, or even a unique process that you’d like to share. 

At my agency, we’re always looking for ways to streamline our processes and increase our accuracy, accountability, and efficiency. Or, maybe you have just a cool place to work with amazing coworkers. We want to hear about it and maybe feature your unit in our next episode. 

Today, I’m in the incredible city of Huntington Beach, California. Home to the US Open of Surfing and The Great Pacific Air Show. I’m in front of the PD right now, and I’m ready to go inside. Come along with me as we see what makes the HBPD Evidence Unit so great.

All right. We’re here in the Huntington Beach property room with my longtime friend, Melissa Hartley (center), who supervises the property and evidence unit. Also joining us is their property technician, Dawn Curran-Tubb (L).

We came in today to talk to HB about what they have in their evidence room, and anything they might really be proud of. Something that stands out. But before we get into that, I’m going to turn it over to Melissa to tell you a little bit about her city.”

Melissa said, “Thank you. Huntington Beach is a very unique town. We have a population of approximately 197,000 people. Our police department has 173 officers and 107 civilian staff. In our property unit, we have four employees; three full-time and one part-time. We accept approximately 1500 items of evidence each month, and we purge approximately 1700 items of evidence each month.”

James said, “Wow, that’s pretty incredible. Do you have anything in your unit that might be a good story, or something maybe infamous or a high value that you guys want to talk about?”

Melissa said, “Nothing I can think of. But, you guys had a Picasso, right?”

James laughed and said, “Actually, there was a Tagger named Picasso, so we had quite a bit of his stuff in our unit. But, I’m sure they don’t want to hear about that. Well, what are we here to talk about today?”

Melissa said, “We’d like to share with you the importance of purging your evidence and working with your investigation division to be able to do that. We also want to talk about how important it is to be willing to try new techniques within your storage facility, and the importance of looking into continual growth within your facility.”

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James said, “Outstanding. And, how does that translate in terms of disposition? What new or unique process are you doing right now with disposition?”

Melissa said, “Right now, we track everything. We also make sure that we’re getting on the Court Management System. We’re constantly looking to see which cases are closed, which cases have been rejected by the DA’s office, and we keep in constant contact with our detectives.”

James said, “In other words, you’re taking a proactive approach to disposition. You’re researching the cases so that by the time you send the paperwork to the investigator, all the work is pretty much done for them. Right?”

Melissa said, “ Yes, that’s correct.”

James said, “There are a few other things going on in your unit right now. Dawn, do you want to talk about that?”

Dawn said, “Before COVID hit, we got a nice Prop 69 grant, and we decided to look at different ways to store things. We are now going to be storing all of our homicide freezer evidence separately. All of our sexual assault freezer evidence separately. And, then the third freezer for everything else. So, we’re going to have three separate freezers, thanks to Prop 69.”

James said, “That’s huge. Some of our viewers from other states may not know what Prop 69 is; or how that works. Or, they may have something similar in their state. Can you explain a little bit about how the funds are divided in Prop 69?”

Dawn said, “Prop 69 was basically designed to help maintain DNA evidence. It predominantly came about for sexual assault cases. But, we’re also seeing a lot more of it with cold cases. As our DNA technology has gotten better, they’re able to go back and look at some of the older evidence and use it to solve cold cases. 

We originally had two freezers and were storing everything together. Different boxes, but everything was together. We found that when we went to go purge, these different types of crimes have different purging requirements. 

Homicide evidence pretty much sticks around forever. So, if we have a dedicated place where it can just sit on the shelf and not get moved and jostled, we don’t have to worry about the degradation of packaging.

The same with our sexual assaults. We try to store everything in relative DR Order. We try to keep our different years together and then we’ll be able to quickly look at our freezer area and see, Oh yeah, this is stuff we need to take a look at. See if it’s coming up for statute. See if it’s time for the detectives to send a letter to the victim and say, We’re getting ready to get rid of this evidence. It increases the integrity of the evidence because it is handled less than our normal day-to-day vehicle burglary swabs.”

James said, “You’re obviously proactive in the way you process evidence and the way you store evidence. We’re going to go take a look right now at the way they dispose of evidence as well.

But, before we do that, I did want to kind of put Melissa on the spot with a unique thing that their agency does. And, I’m a big fan of it. I hope that one day more agencies will jump into this. Do you want to talk a little bit about your found property?”

Melissa said, “Since paper print posting has declined so dramatically,  we now post all of our found property on our Huntington Beach City website. You can look up for each month because we hold found property for 90 days. After 90 days that spreadsheet will drop right off the website. And, we go ahead and repurpose the property at that point.”

James said, “That’s huge. And again, some of our viewers in other states may not understand how California law works… the California Civil Code basically states that any found property that comes into a unit, with a value of over $250, after you hold it for 90 days and nobody’s claimed it, then we’re responsible for posting an ad in a publication of some sort. 

It actually says newspaper, but in these modern times, there aren’t really that many newspaper publications anymore. So, Huntington Beach has taken a proactive approach to that by putting it on their website. I would assume you don’t put the whole description. It’s just a vague description and people can call in and claim it if it belongs to them.”

Melissa said, “Right. We want to leave some of the information off, so they can identify the item. And, we would know for certain that they’re the owners.”

Dawn said, “If I may interject…  We don’t just do it for items over $250, we do it for all of our found items. That way, when people lose their driver’s license, or their phone, when they call us, they can say, I saw item number X  is an iPhone that I lost. We can go straight to that item number and say, Well, what color is the iPhone? What is your splash screen? They are armed with information when they call us, which reduces our time for searching.”

James said, “I’m sure some of our viewers are probably like, How can we put them on our website? Call the IT guy. Let’s get him on the line. That’s a great proactive approach to found property. I appreciate the way you guys are so vested in running your evidence unit and working evidence. 

Also, Dawn is going to be retiring shortly. How much time do you have left?”

Dawn said, “Less than three months.” 

James said, “And how long have you been in the evidence unit?”

Dawn said, “I have been with the department for 21 years. And, I’ve been with evidence and control for six years.”

James said, “Good for you. That’s awesome. Congratulations and good luck with your future endeavors. All right, come on folks. In Part 2 of this episode, we’re going to take you on a tour of the HBPD’s property and evidence unit.” 

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.