QueTel's Evidence TraQ software system helps clean up another evidence room mess
CHANTILLY, Va. — Following the removal of the chief and two lieutenants as well as the city manager in his small Southwestern town, Lt. Smith had just been promoted from Sergeant. Now under the interim chief he to a position, where he could do something about the property room. For nearly seven years he had watched the property storage area become what he described as a mess.
He had heard of a consultant, with experience in helping agencies “clean up” their property and evidence storage areas and called her. Gayla Robison took the call in her car on the way to check up on her mother. She briefly described how she could help the agency.
After that, things moved fast. Two days later she received a call from the interim Chief, who had come from a nearby agency. After describing how she approached the cleanup task, he asked where when she could begin work.
A week later, when she arrived, what she encountered was the mess the Smith and the chief, had described—seven rooms with so much on the floor that no one could go more that two feet into any of them, because there were so many items covering the floor much less the shelves. Before starting the chief authorized purchaser of QueTel's Evidence TraQ to enter the descriptions of what they found.
It was hard to know where to start by start, but she, the one of the patrol sergeants, and a helper dove in. They began with the largest of the rooms, two of which were formerly used as cells. The first effort was to clear items on the floor, so they could gain access to the shelves. Item by item they had to determine whether the statute of limitations (SoL) for the offense on the associated case had expired. If it had not the case number, incident date, charge and description were entered into the computer, placed on the shelf and its location entered into the computer.
If the case were beyond its SoL each item and its case number was recorded for purposes of audit, and the item put in a destruction location. For general items that location was a dumpster, awaiting a trip to the land fill. Narcotics and firearms went into separate locations named awaiting destruction. They required controlled destruction to prevent illicit retrieval. Gayla found a company that, after an NCIC check for stolen weapons, it would grind the 200 firearms and put the narcotics aside for environmentally appropriate burning.
Some items had no case number written on the package. They were assigned to a “dummy” 99999 case number and treated as found property. Many items might have gone to auction to generate revenue for the City and the department. However, Gayla advised that, while realizing a monetary result from the cleanup might taint it as a commercial undertaking rather than an improvement in the integrity of evidence handling.
Early in the process the smell of decaying flesh had permeated the working area. The team discovered that it emanated from a brown paper bag containing still damp clothing covered in blood and containing entrails from an accidental gunshot wound. When she could no longer stand it Gayla wrapped them in two plastic bags and put them in a sealed box.
Toward the end of the week first the chief, then the city manager and, finally, the district attorney came down to view the progress. They were surprised and very pleased, but it was apparent that the job would not be finished in the allotted week. Understanding the gravity of the evidence situation on pending prosecutions, the DA volunteered to pay to have Gayla come back for up to two more weeks. After a week at home catching up with other business, she returned spending nine consecutive days to finish the job.
While the clothing decaying blood and flesh was noxious discovery, during the course of the project, other dangerous finds were three full 5 gallon gas cans a partially rusted gas can with left over fuel and two lawn mowers, and a chain saw still containing gasoline. They should never have been stored as they were not needed as evidence, and if they were evidentiary, they should have been stored in a separate, fireproof enclosure. Luckily, the team found no loaded firearms.
One large room had become a dumping ground for city “junk” as well as evidentiary items. Mixed in with among things such as a broken recliner, a box of copper wire, and old computers were sexual assault kits and evidence form homicide cases. Everyone in the City’s employ had access to that room. But that was not the worst case, the key to the main property room, formerly the jail intake room, hung openly in the records division.
Helping to explain the terminations that preceded new leadership in the city and the department were 15 empty envelopes that purportedly contained narcotics and totally missing were packages that were logged into the records system as 60 grams of methamphetamine and several packages of other controlled substances. The former chief and two lieutenants who were no longer there had seized and documented that evidence in a narcotics arrest. However, because of the unhampered evidence vault access of all agency employees, the DA did not believe there could be a case against the former employees.
When the project was completed Gayla and the departments team had disposed of ___ items and organized the retained ___ items on now nearly shelves, left the TraQ software system to help keep up with intake of new items and purging of unneeded items, and recommended that the department hire a full time evidence custodian to avoid repetition of the situation that she found.
The names of the city and the people involved have been omitted and changed.
QueTel’s software saves time and increases accountability for law enforcement agencies. The TraQ Suite family of applications encompasses evidence management, digital evidence management (including redacation), forensic laboratory management (LIMS), and quartermaster inventory. For 25 years, we have served agencies with implementation services, consulting, and, recently, BWC video redaction services.