If you went home to find that someone broke in and took your valued possession, you’d notice, right? Would you, or anyone within your organization, notice if something came up missing from your evidence room? Probably not.
Often the property and evidence room is a pretty low priority for you in terms of operation, staffing and resource allocation. However, this lack of attention translates into opportunity for theft. It also provides for a lack of accountability for crucial, high profile evidence related to criminal activity.
Go online and search for “evidence room theft” and you will see how a lack of internal controls results in a crisis for an organization and even sends involved parties to prison. If something like this would happen to you, your organization’s reputation and integrity can be damaged.
Implement and Follow Internal Controls
The International Association for Property and Evidence Inc. (IAPE) provides guidelines and regulations for evidence room standards. These guides and manuals indicate that the problems in this area are universal and relate to lack of controls over items included in storage. Even though you may have procedures that reflect the needs and size of the department, it is imperative that you adopt and observe procedures and policies.
Secure Your Evidence
You should look to IAPE professional standards for information related to the security of evidence and essential steps in solidifying and maintaining controls over this area. A few common standards and recommendations you should follow include:
- Security of the facility. Do you have proper security access controls to prevent unauthorized entry into storage areas? This should include access card controls, access logs to document entries, hours of operation, alarms and surveillance cameras and minimum staffing levels.
- Responsibility of personnel. Have you provided training to personnel assigned to manage the property and evidence room? Training is integral to the preservation of evidence and property. This will ensure that the responsibilities of your employees are clearly defined and will provide accountability within the department. Memberships in professional associations can provide you opportunities for training and networking.
- Storage of property and evidence. Do you have packaging standards that meet crime lab and storage requirements, including property records that document the description of property for tracking purposes? These standards should also identify the personnel responsible for entering and deleting firearms into database systems. In addition, you should have a section that addresses any special requirements for high profile items, such as firearms, drugs and currency.
- Purging of property. Mandate regular review of property and evidence for disposal. Be sure to include timelines and responses from individuals assigned to conduct the review. This will help you prevent over-crowding that could result in disorganization and potential loss or contamination of property. This requires you to conduct regular inventories of the items to determine property and evidence ready for disposal based on your retention schedules.
- Audits. Conduct regular reviews and random inspections to determine if policy is being followed. This allows you to send a clear message that following property and evidence room policies is important in order to maintain the integrity of the inventory.
Know Your Risk
How much emphasis do you place on property and evidence room controls within your organization? Chances are that you have an evidence room, evidence locker or storage facility that would apply to the areas identified above. If you don’t address these areas, significant problems could result in the future.
Consider using a third-party to conduct a risk assessment to provide insight and advice on your internal controls. It’s important that you review your current policies and procedures, if they exist, to determine if they are being followed. If not, you’ll need to figure out how you can revise, improve and enforce your organization’s policies.
Don’t become another victim to headline news. Be proactive. Ensure your internal controls are strong.
This article was originally published in Publicly Speaking, a Rea & Associates enewsletter, 9/19/2013.
Note: This content is accurate as of the date published above and is subject to change. Please seek professional advice before acting on any matter contained in this article.