Using the E-Health Check as a First Step to a Healthier Evidence Management Environment

Posted on: Aug 07, 2023

Categories: Uncategorized

In this webinar, we walk you through using EMI’s free e-Health Check as the first step to a healthier environment for your agency’s evidence. We think it’s an incredible resource for you as an evidence custodian. We show you how to use it to diagnose your own evidence issues, so you can start finding solutions. 

We also discuss strategies for taking the results of the assessment to your chain of command to help you develop support for improving your operations.

Shawn began the show by saying, “One of the things – as we travel and as we do classes across the country – we’re finding that a lot of people don’t understand what we mean when we talk about an e-Health check or exactly what it is.

So we want to discuss that with you here today; how that can be used to help you out. But before that, I‘d like to point you to a couple of different things that we do here. First, the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook. This is a great resource. It’s a community of over 1000 evidence custodians that deal with the same issues that you deal with on a daily basis. 

And this is a great place to connect, to ask questions, to find resources, to find solutions to problems that you might not have at your fingertips. Especially if you work at a small operation where you don’t have a lot of people or you don’t have a lot of connections in your immediate geographical region.

I also want to point out that this webinar is possible because of our partnership with Tracker Products. We’ve done a lot of new and fun things with Tracker in the last few months, including rolling out some training across the country at no cost to the participant or the agency. Tracker has made that possible. They create and make evidence management software. If you’re in need of a more effective way to manage your different evidence management workflows, go visit the Tracker Products website.

Okay, back to explaining the e-Health check…  it’s a free service that we provide to evidence custodians and evidence units around the country at no cost. We will explain how to use it and show you some results that you can use to your advantage to get some new resources for your station. 

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Healthy evidence operations. If you’ve been to one of our training classes, this is a concept that we flesh out in class. If you want to know if you’re in a healthy evidence operation or not, ask yourself…. Are your evidence management operations sustainable, efficient, and effective? If that characterizes your agency, then you might be a healthy evidence operation.

Sustainable operations are resourced appropriately. They’re staffed appropriately. They have appropriate financial resources and technological resources. The evidence is housed in a suitable storage facility. It’s secure, it’s safe. It’s temperature controlled. It’s an appropriate environment for your evidence. 

There’s a balance in a healthy environment between intake and disposition. Healthy, sustainable operations bring in evidence and dispose of evidence at a sustainable rate so that we don’t just continue to pile up inventory and run outta space. 

Healthy operations are also characterized by adequate policies and procedures. So if you have strong policies and procedures, that’s a great sign of healthy evidence operations.

Another characteristic is the chain of custody. The chain of custody record and the chain of custody documentation that sustainable healthy operations produce is dependable. It’s solid, it’s true, it’s a reflection of reality, and it is unbroken.

And in a healthy evidence operation, everybody’s needs are met. Officers who enter and submit evidence… it’s easy for them to do that. For evidence custodians, it’s easier for them to manage evidence and appropriately take care of evidence. 

And prosecuting attorneys, district attorneys, defense attorneys, victims of crime investigators… in a healthy operation, it works for everybody. For citizens who have lost property, it works for them. It works for everybody in the system. 

And finally, accountability measures. So those are some of the signs of a healthy environment. 

How do you know if you’re not in a healthy evidence environment? How do you know when you’re not healthy? Now, me personally – we’re gonna use a little metaphor of personal health – I know when I’m unhealthy. I just don’t feel well. But sometimes, I don’t even notice it when I’m not feeling well. 

So it’s difficult for some of us to know that we’re in a situation that isn’t healthy, especially in an evidence vault. When you’re in there every day, and you see the same things over and over again, it’s really difficult sometimes to know. So if you don’t even know that you’re not healthy, if you don’t even know that there are issues that need to be addressed, it’s really difficult to solve the problems. 

RELATED ARTICLE: EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT – EVIDENCE HEALTH CHECK – PART 1

And not only is it hard to solve the problems, you can’t even diagnose the problem. If we can’t really properly diagnose the problem, if we can’t communicate the symptoms of the problem up the chain, then it’s really difficult for anyone to help us solve that problem, much less find a cure.

That’s why we created the e-Health check. The eHealth Check is a self-assessment report, and it’s offered at no cost to you or your agency. It’s an online, user-driven tool that will put some data in your hands and produce a report that you can use at your agency to help solve your problems. 

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It is intended to be a baseline, a really quick snapshot in time at your operations. And it will give you some insight into how you stand as an evidence operation and some things that you can do to improve. It will make recommendations for you and your agency to put into place to start resolving or correcting some of those issues or deficiencies. So let me move forward. I’m gonna try something new here. I’m gonna try to walk you through a magic little video that we’ve loaded up.

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This is the eHealth check, and what we’re doing is showing you the different steps that it takes to go through the eHealth check. We ask you for a little demographic information, and then we ask you some very simple questions about your evidence operation. Questions that are usually answerable by an evidence custodian. 

This is not something that you would be able to walk through if you have no idea of what goes on in your evidence vault or anything about your operations. This is something that you really need to be a line-level evidence custodian or evidence technician in order to really make the most out of this. 

Some of these questions are subjective, meaning some of them are not measurable. Like, does your agency have full support from your executive-level leadership? That’s gonna be a subjective opinion.

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It’s gonna ask a couple of questions, like how many full-time personnel do you have? You can use 0.5 if you’ve got half of a full-time position. What we’re trying to capture here is the percentage of time that you spend doing evidence management work. And that’s important because many of us are a single shop. We are the one person at our agency who is responsible for evidence custody, but that’s only 20% of our duties. 

So we’re trying to capture that to give you a real-time idea about exactly how much time you have to deal with evidence. We run through a few things, like rotations of assignments. Those are important factors and important pieces of information.

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Lots of questions about policy and procedure. And they’re fairly easy to answer. Who does your training? What kind of training program do you have? Who has attended actual training classes outside of evidence management? 

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So now we’ve got a couple of questions that are more specific to your evidence operations. How many items do you have in custody? That’s an important piece of information. How many locations do you have? What is your estimated storage capacity? This could be a swag. It doesn’t have to be an accurate reflection. 

One of the things that we ask are intake and disposition numbers. Intake and disposition numbers are critical. If you have those before you take the assessment, you’re better off. It’s really difficult to stop in the middle and pick up again without those numbers. 

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We ask about intake processing hours. How long does it take you to do intake? Literally like hours and minutes. How long does it take you to do intake or perform the intake process, which basically is from collecting evidence and storing evidence at your agency?  Who authorizes disposals at your agency? 

We ask a little bit about technology like barcode, barcode net barcode questions and unique identifiers, packaging, labeling, and sealing. A lot of those things are part of the survey. 

Also, some reporting questions like, how long would it take you to generate a detailed report of exactly how many drug items and firearms items you have stored in your vault? How long would it take you to generate a report of total items in your vault or total currency levels in your vault? 

These are all really important questions. And your ability to access that information immediately is really critical in terms of your being able to leverage data to make decisions related to your evidence operations.

RELATED ARTICLE: EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT – EVIDENCE HEALTH CHECK – PART 2

And a couple of digital evidence questions. What types of digital evidence are in storage at your agency, and where is that digital evidence stored? All this stuff becomes important at some point in the survey with respect to the authentication of digital assets and the storage and retention of digital assets. 

We’ll ask a little bit about security measures… alarm systems, video surveillance, where that video surveillance is placed. And then, we talk about security levels for those high liability items like drugs, money, guns, and disposed items.

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Couple more questions. Estimated currency storage levels. That’s just always good to know. 

Offsite storage, how do your temporary evidence lockers work? Different key access issues, like how often do you change keys? How often do you verify and look through your card reader access logs? If you’ve taken one of our classes, you know that card reader access is one of the hidden unthought-of vulnerabilities. 

We also talk ask about sexual assault, biological evidence kits, and their collection. That’s usually a good benchmark that is important across the country. 

We talk about different accountability practices, like your last inventory and last audit, and then you finish it and download the report. And it will show you the actual report that you would receive at your agency about your operations.

What you’re gonna see is all of the data that you placed into the assessment, and it’s going to be filtered through several different sets of algorithms and metrics and compared to different principles and best practices that we teach here at the Evidence Management Institute. It’s useful data that you can use to transform your evidence management practices.

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We explain how those measurements work and how we reach those numbers. And we make very specific recommendations that you should consider doing as an agency in order to start solving those problems.

You’ll be able to use to leverage that information and bring that back to your chain of command as a valid, impartial, data-driven assessment of your own operations in law enforcement. And in my career in law enforcement – and as a consultant and as a trainer and evidence management trainer – all this comes together. 

It’s very difficult to get help if all we bring is a complaint. So what we want to start doing is equipping people with solutions to well-defined problems. And if we can bring a solution to a well-defined problem, that’s not a complaint anymore… it’s a project. That’s something that we can work on. 

That’s something that executive-level leaders can wrap their brains around and direct resources to. If we will change our focus… instead of complaining and turn our energy to problem-solving. And start measuring outcomes and measuring things as issues that be resolved. It’s much easier to get executive-level leaders and command staff to pay attention and to help resolve and solve the problems with us.

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One of my favorite languages is Liabilities. And liabilities are the absolute language of leadership. What this document does is spell out your agency’s general health relative to your peer cohorts and other agencies in the same boat as you. 

What we teach at the Evidence Management Institute is very similar in principle and practice. Our standards and best practices are consistent with every other working body of literature out there. These principles are universal. So it’s not like this measurement is going to give you the EMI “right way” to do things compared to another organization’s right way of doing things. 

Justice is justice. Chain of custody is chain of custody. Those things are pretty universal. Now. There is no standardization within law enforcement, but knowing what the right thing to do with evidence can be fairly universal.

This document will help you translate all the problems into something that is measurable and definable. 

We think that the e-Health check is a great tool to use. It’s almost like a mini audit at no cost. And no one has to come to see your stuff. You know, we’re not gonna hold you accountable for it. What we will say is that it is only as good as the information that you put in. So if you put in absolute swag numbers, guess what? It’s gonna return absolute swag numbers. 

It is not AI, it is not capable of reaching into your own network and pulling out information that doesn’t exist.

On a different note, we have a question… What does the rotation of an assignment mean?

What I mean by that is, do evidence custodians rotate in and out of the unit every three or five years? It’s really common in sworn agencies where people rotate to an assignment, then they rotate out of an assignment. It’s much more common in law enforcement for supervisors to rotate in and out. 

And one of the things that I think is true about evidence management – evidence custody in general – is that it really takes about 18 months to learn your job. It takes about 18 months to know enough about your job to have some level of competence.

So if you’re a police department and you rotate supervisors every three years, even if they’ve been diligent and tried to learn their job at 18 months, they’re already on the downhill slide of that assignment. So they’re only on good time for about 18 months. That’s just not a very sustainable practice.”

Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to contribute to your ongoing education through a series of FREE online evidence management training classes. You can also watch the Tracker Products webinars. Check out The Evidence Show! (recorded webinars), or attend the FREE! In-Person, Two-Day Evidence Management Certification Training Classes

To get in on the discussion with over 1000 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.