Evidence Managers
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Last week, we wrote an article called, The Journey of Evidence: Beyond the Storage Facility, in response to some comments that took us by surprise… “I didn’t realize that evidence moved.” “What do you mean? Where does it go?” “Why would evidence need to move?”

In it, we talked about how evidence is constantly moving. And don’t forget, evidence doesn’t move itself, an evidence custodian must facilitate all movement in a secure and traceable manner. Another consideration? A single criminal case could have thousands of pieces of evidence – all moving in different directions simultaneously. 

Where does the evidence go? The shortlist includes Digital Forensics Labs, Legal Teams, DNA Labs, Detective Departments, Courtrooms, Specialized Forensic Labs (Toxicology, Ballistics, and fingerprint Analysis), Training Facilities, and Disposition. 

But the comments seemed to be the tip of an iceberg to a deeper question no one seemed willing to ask…  What do evidence custodians actually do all day? 

Let’s be honest—most folks in law enforcement, including police officers and even the top brass, probably think evidence custodians spend their days yawning, playing solitaire, and talking to dusty boxes about their deepest secrets in dimly lit storage rooms. The reality, however, is far more fast-paced and complex. 

Evidence custodians are the unsung heroes of the justice system, the silent warriors ensuring every piece of evidence is accounted for and preserved impeccably. So, what do these custodians actually do all day? Spoiler alert: it’s a lot more than just babysitting boxes.

Role of Evidence Management Software

Evidence management
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In the intricate world of law enforcement, where every detail can make or break a case, evidence custodians stand as guardians of truth and justice. Their role goes far beyond merely storing items in a locker; they are entrusted with the critical task of managing evidence from the moment it’s collected to its final disposition. 

Modern technology, like evidence management software, plays a pivotal role in their mission by providing automated intake and tracking, simplifying the process of logging new evidence, and reducing the risk of human error. It maintains a detailed and tamper-proof record of each interaction with the evidence, ensuring transparency and accountability. 

The software controls who can access it and the evidence, with user permissions and authentication measures, and generates comprehensive reports and audit trails, aiding in regular reviews and compliance with legal standards. Integration capabilities allow seamless integration with other forensic tools and databases, streamlining the management of both physical and digital evidence. 

But remember, evidence management software needs a human to set the parameters, such as database configuration, user accounts and permissions, chain of custody protocols, data entry and input, integrations, customization, training, & task assignments. The human? Evidence custodians.  

Intake of Evidence

Evidence Custodians
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The process begins when officers or investigators collect evidence at a crime scene. They document each piece of evidence, assign unique identifiers such as barcodes or serial numbers, and place items into sealed evidence bags to prevent contamination or tampering. Information, including the date, time, location of collection, and description of the evidence, is recorded into an evidence management software platform. 

Once collected, the evidence is transported to the evidence storage facility, where the custodian receives it. The custodian verifies that all items match the accompanying documentation and that the seals are intact. They then enter the evidence into the evidence management system, logging details such as the unique identifier, a description of the item, the name of the person who collected it, and the date and time of intake. 

The custodian assigns each piece of evidence a storage location within the facility, placing it in a secure environment within a secure location designed to restrict access. Chain of custody documentation is maintained, recording every instance of access, transfer, or handling to preserve the evidence’s integrity and admissibility in court. This process ensures that the evidence remains uncontaminated, properly documented, and ready for use in the judicial process.

Packaging Inspections

Evidence Custodians
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When inspecting the way evidence is packaged, evidence custodians are primarily looking for proper sealing and labeling to ensure the integrity and security of the evidence. The seals on these containers must be intact and tamper-evident, ensuring that the evidence has not been accessed or altered since collection. This process includes checking for proper seals and labels, which is especially important for sensitive items like DNA samples, firearms, money, and drugs that require special handling and protection.

Custodians also verify that each package is clearly labeled with essential information, which could include a unique identifier, case number, description of the contents, the name of the person who collected the evidence, and the date and time of collection – qualifiers determined by each department.

Additionally, evidence custodians look for any signs of damage or contamination to the packaging that could compromise the evidence. They ensure that sharp objects or items with potential biohazards are properly marked and stored safely to prevent injury or contamination. The packaging should also be secure enough to protect the evidence from environmental factors like moisture, heat, or light, which could degrade its quality. By carefully inspecting these aspects, custodians help maintain the chain of custody and ensure that the evidence remains in a condition suitable for analysis and presentation in court.

Facilitating Evidence Movement

Evidence Custodians
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Evidence custodians play a crucial role in facilitating the movement of evidence both within the storage facility and to various outside locations, ensuring that the integrity and chain of custody are maintained throughout the process. Within the storage facility, custodians systematically organize and catalog evidence, assigning each piece a specific location to streamline retrieval and prevent loss or misplacement. Evidence management software significantly enhances this process by providing a centralized database where custodians can log details of each item, track its location, and generate reports efficiently. The software’s search and retrieval capabilities allow custodians to quickly locate evidence, reducing time and errors associated with manual records.

When evidence needs to be transported to outside facilities such as digital forensics labs, legal teams, DNA labs, detective departments, courtrooms, specialized forensic labs (like toxicology, ballistics, and fingerprint analysis), training facilities, or for final disposition, evidence management software becomes even more invaluable. The software enables custodians to prepare detailed transfer documentation, including chain of custody forms that record every handoff. By automating these forms, the software ensures accuracy and completeness, which are critical for maintaining the legal admissibility of evidence. It also provides alerts and reminders to custodians about upcoming transfers or required actions, ensuring that evidence is packaged securely and appropriately for the type of analysis or use it will undergo.

Custodians can scan items to instantly update their status in the system, ensuring real-time tracking and reducing the risk of human error. This capability is particularly beneficial during the transport of evidence, as it allows for continuous monitoring and verification at each stage. Upon arrival at the destination, the receiving party can use the software to verify the integrity of the seals and documentation before taking custody of the evidence.

Task Management

Evidence Custodians
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Evidence custodians can significantly improve efficiency and accuracy by using evidence management software to automate tasks throughout the entire lifecycle of evidence. During the intake process, the software can automatically generate and assign unique identifiers and barcodes for new evidence items, streamlining documentation. Automated notifications can alert custodians and relevant personnel when new evidence is entered into the system, prompting immediate verification and storage actions.

The management of chain of custody records is also enhanced through automation. The software automatically updates chain of custody logs whenever evidence is accessed, transferred, or relocated, ensuring real-time accuracy. Reminders and alerts notify custodians of upcoming court dates, required evidence transfers, or routine audits, reducing the risk of missed deadlines. For evidence requiring periodic checks, such as digital media, the software schedules and tracks these tasks, sending alerts when actions are due.

In the final stages of the evidence lifecycle, such as disposition, the software tracks retention schedules and notifies custodians when evidence is eligible for disposal based on legal or organizational policies. This ensures timely and compliant disposal or return of evidence, freeing up storage space. Additionally, the software can generate reports and summaries needed for audits, legal proceedings, or internal reviews, automating data aggregation and presentation to support transparency and accountability.

Evidence Tracking

Evidence Custodian
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Evidence custodians can significantly improve the evidence-tracking process by utilizing evidence management software, which provides a comprehensive and integrated system for managing evidence from collection to final disposition. This software centralizes all evidence-related information, allowing custodians to easily log, access, and update records. By assigning unique identifiers and barcodes to each piece of evidence, the software ensures that every item can be tracked accurately throughout its lifecycle. Scanning these barcodes at each stage of handling—whether during intake, storage, transfer, or retrieval—automatically updates the system, maintaining real-time tracking and minimizing the risk of errors associated with manual record-keeping.

The software also enhances the chain of custody documentation by automatically logging every interaction with each piece of evidence. This includes details such as who accessed the evidence, when it was accessed, and for what purpose. Automated alerts and reminders ensure that custodians and relevant personnel are promptly notified of necessary actions, such as upcoming court dates, required evidence transfers, or periodic checks. This proactive approach prevents delays and ensures that evidence is always in the right place at the right time, ready for analysis or presentation in court.

Furthermore, evidence management software improves the overall transparency and accountability of the evidence-tracking process. Detailed audit trails and comprehensive reporting features allow custodians to quickly generate accurate records for internal reviews, audits, or legal proceedings. These reports can highlight any discrepancies or issues, enabling timely resolution and ensuring the integrity of the evidence. By streamlining the tracking process and providing real-time visibility into the status and location of every piece of evidence, the software empowers custodians to maintain the highest standards of evidence management and support the judicial process more effectively.

Knowledge of Laws and Protocol Adherence

Evidence Custodians
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Evidence custodians need a working knowledge of local, state, and national laws regarding evidence management to ensure compliance with all legal requirements and standards. They must also establish and adhere to best practices for packaging and handling evidence, training personnel on proper techniques, and updating protocols as necessary. Managing access to both the evidence management facility and the software used to track evidence is a key responsibility, ensuring that only authorized individuals have access and maintaining security and confidentiality.

Audits

Evidence Custodian
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In evidence management, audits function as critical spot inspections designed to maintain the integrity and accuracy of the evidence-handling process. Unlike comprehensive inventories, which involve a full accounting of every piece of evidence, audits are more targeted. Custodians conduct audits based on specific criteria, such as the type of evidence, its location, or the case it pertains to. For instance, an audit might focus solely on biological evidence to ensure all DNA samples are correctly labeled and stored under appropriate conditions. Alternatively, an audit could target a particular storage location or review evidence associated with a specific investigation.

These targeted audits help identify potential issues, such as misplaced or mislabeled evidence, environmental control failures, or breaches in protocol. By conducting regular audits, custodians can quickly detect and rectify discrepancies, preventing minor issues from escalating into significant problems that could compromise an investigation or trial. Advanced evidence management software aids in the audit process by generating reports and providing detailed audit trails, enhancing both accuracy and efficiency while ensuring transparency and accountability.

Part 1 Conclusion 

In the grand tapestry of law enforcement, the role of evidence custodians often remains shrouded in mystery. Many might picture them as solitary figures, chatting with dusty boxes in dimly lit storage rooms. But the reality is quite the opposite—evidence custodians are the dynamic stewards of justice, ensuring every piece of evidence is meticulously tracked, preserved, and accounted for.

Evidence custodians don’t just babysit boxes; they orchestrate a complex symphony of logistics, from the initial intake of evidence to its final disposition. Armed with advanced evidence management software, they juggle myriad tasks—verifying seals, facilitating secure transfers, and conducting meticulous audits—all while maintaining an unbreakable chain of custody. They are the gatekeepers who ensure that evidence is handled with the utmost care, preserving its integrity for courtrooms and investigations alike.

Their work is critical, as even the slightest misstep could compromise a case. Evidence custodians must stay abreast of evolving laws and protocols, continuously educating themselves to handle everything from digital forensics to hazardous materials. Their dedication to detail and rigorous adherence to protocols make them indispensable to the justice system.

So, next time you find yourself wondering what an evidence custodian does all day, remember: they are the unsung heroes, the silent warriors of the law enforcement world. Without them, the path to justice would be strewn with chaos and confusion. Evidence custodians ensure that truth prevails, one meticulously logged piece of evidence at a time. They might not wear capes, but their work is nothing short of heroic.

Preview of the Next Edition

In the next edition of “What do Evidence Custodians Actually Do All Day?” we will delve into the intricacies of inventory management. Inventories are a thorough accounting of every piece of evidence within a facility, ensuring that all items are accurately documented, packaged properly, and in the correct location. However, due to the volume and variety of evidence, performing a complete inventory all at once is impractical. Instead, inventories are conducted in rotations based on chosen processes.

You’ll learn how custodians tackle specific categories like firearms, DNA samples, and drugs to ensure meticulous documentation and storage. We’ll explore the methods used for sectioning facilities and the strategic planning that goes into rotational inventories, preventing discrepancies and maintaining the integrity of the evidence management system.

Additionally, we will cover the critical aspect of chain of custody reviews. You’ll see how every movement and transfer of evidence is logged with precise detail, ensuring its admissibility in court. Advanced evidence management software plays a crucial role in maintaining and reviewing the chain of custody, providing real-time tracking and comprehensive audit trails.

Facility security, including measures like two-factor authentication, biometric identification, and secure access cards, will be discussed to highlight the lengths to which custodians go to protect evidence. Inspections to ensure everything from refrigeration systems to shelving units are in optimal condition are also part of their daily responsibilities, ensuring that the storage conditions are ideal for preserving evidence.

Stay tuned as we uncover the meticulous, detail-oriented world of evidence custodians, revealing the vital steps they take to ensure justice is served.

If you would like to learn more about how FileOnQ can help you manage everything from your Enterprise Platform to a Data Backup and Recovery Solution and Evidence Management Software Solutions, visit FileOnQ here.

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