A New Chief's Dilemma

April 28, 2014
Every chief has their areas of concern (hot buttons) and they all vary from chief to chief. What was one of my hot buttons is his looming disaster. His dilemma was the property and evidence rooms, yes I said rooms.

Recently, I met a newly appointed chief of police and while welcoming him into the fold of chiefdom he started to ask questions. Now for those who have been a chief, the transition from old chief’s administration to your administration may take a while. There are several matters that will take time to adjust to you, most are routine matters, and some will actually manifest themselves right before your eyes demanding your attention. Every chief has their areas of concern (hot buttons) and they all vary from chief to chief.  What was one of my hot buttons is his looming disaster.  His dilemma was the property and evidence rooms, yes I said rooms. He had inherited a swirling disaster of property and evidence that would make the heartiest of us cringe.

Most chiefs and sheriffs will recommend that there are some items that deserve immediate attention once you take over your reign. These transitional projects or audits will provide the new chief a clean slate for their administration and allows them to address needs where gaps or inaccuracies are discovered. These audits are not a slam against the former administration but a measure of accurate accounting from a change of commands. This is somewhat a kin to a bank teller who verifies the day’s cash transactions. Most all chiefs will recommend any and all cash accounts (informant and buy money), armory inventory (missing firearms), pending lawsuits, pending insurance claims and property/evidence room inventory for starters. This is not a comprehensive list but a good start to know what rocks are in the roadway to your success.

Now back to the freshly minted chief and his problems. The new chief’s dilemma was he has taken over a new department and all of the evidence and/or property was scattered in three rooms about the department. No order, rhyme or reason to it, as property grew so did the rooms. Where to start and what to do? First thing most new chiefs like to ask for is a property room inventory and evidence audit.  These all take time, usually lots of it and in smaller departments this responsibility is often a collateral duty so staffing and overtime will fall into play. This will be a long term project and will be quite an investment. What are the logical steps for this process?

First and foremost, he will need budgetary and staffing support over the current budget. Usually every new chief has a honeymoon project that the municipality will grant you.  These are sometimes wasted over vanity projects, where some chief wants to put his fingerprint on the new department. Usually these are new patches, new car markings and other window-dressings which can be meaningless in a civil litigation defense.  As an old politician once told me, your first few projects often set you on your course with that organization. So this project at hand has meaning, will defend from liability and enhance the credibility of the agency. In other words, this is a great honeymoon project. Once you garner political support to move forth, the next step is to select the staff who can handle this project. I said handle this for it will be time consuming, tedious and monotonous work. This person will have to be self-motivating, requires little supervision and be able to cope with a long term project. This is not the job for the officer that wants dayshift, inside work and no-heavy lifting; this selection process will be important.

After the selection process, I would recommend that the officer(s) be sent to training offered by the International Association of Property and Evidence, Inc. (www.iape.org ).  This organization is the benchmark in the area of property and evidence management. Their training, recommended policies/procedures and certifications are the best in my opinion, I have used them for my departments successfully. The attendance to the Property Management Training Class should be required before starting (if possible) and seeking their Certified Property and Evidence Specialist training should follow. For those agencies seeking any form of law enforcement accreditation, these evidence & property polices will mirror and often exceed most all accreditation standards. So there will be no duplication of efforts or wasted energies. 

Before you start with any construction or purchases, try to apply lessons learned from the International Association of Property and Evidence, Inc. first. The refitting of a property room will include space for future storage and even air supply/handler requirements. The air recirculation from a property room is not what you want in circulation within your department’s heating and air conditioning system. One large raid of marijuana will soon infiltrate your building if the air handling system is not addressed.  You may get some assistance from your municipality’s insurance trust (if you belong). Often they will offer grants and support for safety improvements and lowering any insurance claims exposure. The removal of flammable substances, explosives and other hazardous substances to an outside storage containment location may lower your fire insurance rating and will improve overall building safety.  

Another recommendation to the chief was that there are several evidence and property tracking systems out on the market. Talk to all of the equipment vendors and  speak with other local/state departments who have such systems. Then seek out which is best for your department and especially one that blends with your records management system (RMS) and what is user friendly for your staff.  Speak with your district attorney and state government for any and all changes in laws regarding the disposal of evidence and property. Chances are if you department is this far out of step, these legal steps may have eluded you as well. There is some relief for financial recovery of your efforts. Most states allow the sale of unclaimed property to the public so there will be some income for improvements. My final advice is pace yourself, there are a lot of topics that a new chief or sheriff must broach beginning your watch. It can be overwhelming at times; this is a long term project here and will require long term planning and preparation. Good luck to this chief on his journey. 

About the Author

William L. Harvey | Chief

William L. "Bill" Harvey is a U.S. Army Military Police Corps veteran. He has a BA in criminology from St. Leo University and is a graduate of the Southern Police Institute of the University of Louisville (103rd AOC).  Harvey served for over 23 years with the Savannah (GA) Police Department in field operations, investigations and completed his career as the director of training. Served as the chief of police of the Lebanon City Police Dept (PA) for over seven years and then ten years as Chief of Police for the Ephrata Police Dept (PA). In retirement he continues to publish for professional periodicals and train.        

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