Evidence Management – Between Now and Normal – Part 2

Posted on: Jul 16, 2021

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 evidence. In each episode, we take a look at the unique issues that impact evidence managers, custodians, and the law enforcement community in general.  This episode originally aired on June 11, 2020.

Shawn continued this webinar by saying, “In The Evidence Management Institute’s standards and best practices guide, there are 10 different chapters that cover 10 different areas of evidence management. What you will find in those pages are principles and practices that you can apply to all types of evidence that will also protect you from unforeseen threats like COVID-19.

I’ll give you some examples. One of the principles that we teach in our classes, and have established in our standards, is packaging principles. 

evidence packaging

All items should be packaged, labeled and sealed. That is going to help protect us from viral transmission or pathogen transmission. Same with the packaging manual. So, you can take these two existing standards to also provide protection against COVID-19, or COVID 20, or COVID 25. These practices can be broadly applicable to future issues as well. 

There are usually some cycles that law enforcement goes through. Something will happen in the news, and it will be an exposure to a certain thing. For a few years, it’s been Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a very real problem that needs to be addressed, because it is a different animal than other types of narcotics that we deal with. 

But there’s also exposure to hepatitis, HIV, Ebola… we go through all these exposure risks. But, if we take the same basic safety principles and apply them to our operations, it protects us against each of those things.

Up to about 10 years ago, there were still law enforcement, firefighters, and EMTs that would respond to patients without wearing gloves. You don’t see that much anymore because we understand how they protect you. And, it only takes seconds to put on a pair of nitrile gloves. 

So, the culture is changing, but we need to make sure that we continue to apply those principles, because they do protect us from a wide variety of things.

We recommend evidence packaging, in our standards and best practices, like craft envelopes and paper bags; which are breathable. They’re appropriate for biological evidence. They also protect against those unintentional or accidental exposures.

One thing I do want to stress is another standard that is critical with respect to COVID-19 or any type of pathogen: Labeling. 

evidence labeling

Your officers have to be held accountable. If we believe something might contain a virus like COVID-19, that needs to be labeled as a biohazard. It needs to be clear to you as the evidence custodian that this thing might contain something that is not good for you.

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If that’s not written into your procedures or your practices already, that’s something that you should definitely communicate to your officers and make sure that you establish immediately as a safeguard. If they have received this property from someone that is coughing or seems to have COVID-like symptoms, go ahead and label the item as biological evidence.

Even if it’s property, biological property, it needs to have a warning label regardless of how it comes in. If we believe that it’s capable of transmitting something, then it needs to have a biohazard label. 

I want to talk about true personal protective gear. 

protective gear

This is a bit of a soapbox issue for me. I believe in the value of personal protective gear. When we look at true personal protective gear, we recommend three things. For evidence managers, you need to make sure that they are a part of your operations, because you want to be truly protected to a standard that someone has studied before. 

For first responders and evidence personnel N95 masks are proven to prevent transmissions of particles down to 0.3 microns. That’s what the masks are designed for. That’s the OSHA standard. We can rely on N95 masks. If worn properly, according to the directions, they will protect us against being exposed to the virus or taking in virus particles from the air. 

We’re in the business of protecting people with things that have been tested and proven. So our recommendation is in N95 masks for evidence personnel who are handling evidence or dealing with the public during this phase of the pandemic.

The other element of true personal protective gear is nitrile gloves. Some agencies still use latex gloves, but most are phasing out of latex because of the allergies that can be associated with them. Nitrile gloves are a critical part of any personal protective gear set up. It is really important that you equip your personnel – or if you’re an evidence custodian – with nitrile gloves that are designed to a specification. I recommend using the National Fire Protection Association’s approved standards for nitrile gloves.

I don’t admit very often that the fire guys have a lot to offer to me as an individual, but I do have to admit the things that they do extremely well. They have a lot of knowledge and they have done a lot of research behind them. Nitrile gloves are one of those recommendations. 

I remember as a patrol officer, we had crappy gloves that were paper thin and would rip. If we really wanted to be protected, we relied on the firefighters to let us borrow their stuff because they had nitrile gloves that were thick. They didn’t rip, they didn’t tear. And that’s because they did the hard work of having people actually study nitrile gloves as an issue. Nitrile gloves protect you past the fold of your wrist.

They need to be thick enough to use out in the field. They prevent pathogens from being transmitted through your gloves. This NSPA standard is used across the board in emergency medical services and fire service, to protect them against pathogens. 

RELATED: THE IMPORTANCE OF EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT TRAINING

Microflex is a manufacturer of nitrile gloves. They’ve actually designed gloves that are not only pathogen tested and meet that NSPA specification, but they’ve also been designed and tested against fentanyl exposure. That’s really getting down to the microscopic levels of exposure and creating barriers that will prevent fentanyl exposure. 

The last thing to think about is eye protection. There are a couple of ways you can achieve eye protection: Using a barrier across the counter, or if you’re being exposed to people, it’s also a good idea to wear eye protection to prevent exposure to the same type of particles that can get into your eyes, as well as your nose and your mouth. 

If you’re using makeshift personal protective gear, it may provide some measure of protection, but it’s not been studied. It’s not been tested. So, there is a huge element of doubt that I would associate with using materials that haven’t been proven to prevent pathogen contamination or exposure risks. 

As far as a Model COVID 19 Exposure Response, these are the things that we recommend at the Evidence Management Institute… 

exposure response

One: Required Evidence Packaging.

If everything comes in a package, you’re going to have an increased layer of protection against COVID contamination or any pathogen exposure. I can’t underscore that enough. If you’ve allowed people to submit purses and backpacks, and things like that, unpackaged in the past, change that and require them to package it.

Part two of a Model COVID-19 Exposure Response would be requiring the appropriate use of approved personal protective gear require evidence. Custodians should require officers, when they’re packaging evidence, to wear personal protective gear. You should also require evidence custodians, when they’re completing the intake process, to wear appropriate personal protective gear. If we require the appropriate use of approved personal protective gear, that’s going to add another layer of security to our operations. 

The third and final kind of piece of the puzzle for a Model COVID-19 Exposure Response is your Evidence Return Procedures. If you’re an agency that has a barrier and a pass through a customer service window, you’ve already achieved this. So, there’s not a lot that you need to do other than making sure that zone is clean, recleaned, and decontaminated. 

But, if you have to go face to face with somebody to return evidence, there are a couple of things that are critically important. One is a clean, neutral zone. A place where people can return and exchange not only property, but chain of custody documentation, and identification. 

It is absolutely essential that we maintain a strong, secure, stable 360 degree chain of custody with our evidence transactions, regardless of the conditions that we’re exchanging evidence in. 

So, step one is: Establish a Clean, Neutral Zone. A place that can be decontaminated and that you can exchange personal identifying information and documentation, as well as the evidence. Step two is: Establish Procedures for Positively Identifying and Documenting the Exchange, or the return of evidence, that allows that transaction to happen remotely.

That’s why I love the use of evidence management software because a signature capture pad can be used. It is an easy thing to do remotely, but not all of us have those. There are other mechanisms, but there needs to be some way of positively identifying a person and obtaining the documentation that you need before that exchange is made. 

Then you would facilitate the exchange of that item in the neutral zone, in the clean neutral zone. So, step three is: Facilitate the Exchange. 

The last step is: Decontaminate and Reset the Clean, Neutral Zone. If we follow these four steps in establishing a safe zone for evidence return, we protect ourselves. We protect our citizens from a potential COVID-19 exposure. That keeps us safe. It keeps the citizens safe, and it also preserves the chain of custody for evidence.”

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 nearly 600 other evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.