A one-stop-shop is not one-size-fits-all
Find out why one agency chose to keep its original evidence management software vendor when upgrading other systems
Sponsored by QueTel
By Rachel Zoch, PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff
Sgt. Ron Frank manages property and evidence for the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. When he took the reins in 2013, the department had about 93,000 items in evidence and two full-time evidence personnel.
When the agency started looking at software upgrades in 2015, Frank started looking at evidence management modules. PCSO had been using the QueTel evidence management system since 2001, and after checking out their chosen new RMS platform in action at another agency, Frank urged PCSO to stick with QueTel’s Evidence TraQ.
“We were kind of leaning toward a one-stop shop that offered a module for several different options. I went and viewed that evidence module at different locations,” said Frank, “and I thought the QueTel system that was 14 years old was better than what this other system would allow us, so we decided to maintain QueTel and to purchase their updated version.”
The upgrade added digital evidence management capabilities and eliminated manual data entry specifically for evidence, because the software communicates with the department’s RMS to automatically upload the information.
EASIER EVIDENCE INPUT
Because the QueTel software now communicates with their RMS system, it makes evidence input easy for officers and evidence techs alike, says Frank.
“We used to do it three times – in the initial report, then in the QueTel system, and then the evidence personnel would have to manually put the stuff in and affix a barcode to it,” he said. “Now it's put in one time, and it's electronically transmitted.”
To file evidence, an officer completes the department’s report writing procedure, and the RMS automatically uploads the information to the QueTel system. Each item is assigned an individual barcode by the system, and the officer prints the barcode, affixes it to the evidence and then places it in a locker to secure it for intake by an evidence technician.
“That's it, as far as the paperwork goes,” said Frank.
The evidence custodians then retrieve the items, scan the barcodes and place the item wherever it needs to go, whether that’s to the lab for processing, to refrigerated or outdoor storage or whatever the case may be. Meanwhile, the QueTel system is keeping track of each link in the chain of custody.
“You have a second-by-second account of where that item has been and who has been in contact with it,” said Frank. “I've actually gone to depositions with relatively new attorneys and brought my documentation with me, and when they look at my second-by-second breakdown documentation, they don't even call me for trial. That saves me a lot of time.”
It also eases the release process when someone wants to reclaim their property or it needs to be handed over to another agency. The QueTel system provides an itemized list of each item scanned that can be released with a single signature, as opposed to a separate form and signature for each item. Frank recounts a recent collection of evidence from another agency that used different software.
“In that particular instance, we had 53 guns. I had to sign my name 57 times, and they would make a copy of it and hand it to me,” he said. “With the QueTel system, I can literally scan the barcode that's attached to each item and have someone electronically sign and then print out one paper with 57 items on it and hand it to them. It’s a lot easier.”
EASIER EVIDENCE SHARING
QueTel also makes it easy to share evidence with prosecutors. Gone are the days of evidence custodians responding to prosecutor requests by burning files onto a CD or DVD and physically sending them. Now prosecutors can request access to digital files via the internet.
The system ensures view-only access that prevents alteration, unintentional or otherwise, which preserves the chain of custody.
“They can't put anything in, they can't take anything out, they can't delete anything,” said Frank. “All the state attorney can do is view the system, and they're able to view everything.”
This saves PCSO in labor hours and in money no longer spent on blank discs and postage, as well as storage space for those discs.
“It used to be, they would call and ask us to make a DVD or a CD of photographs from a particular case,” said Frank. “Now they can take care of all that themselves.”
EASIER EVIDENCE PURGING
QueTel also provides automated notices that help Frank and his team tackle the biggest challenge for any evidence manager – purging outdated evidence that’s no longer needed but still taking up space.
“You're constantly trying to purge out old evidence that's no longer in use or no longer needs to be stored,” he said. “QueTel is definitely an easier way to organize and assist you with the purging, as it automates the whole purging process. When something is ready to go out, it sends you an alert to let you know to view the evidence and decide whether or not you can get rid of it.”
The QueTel system provides automatic alerts when an item is past the statute of limitations, which cues Frank and his team to notify the state attorney and ask if the item can be purged. Inversely, when a case has been completed, the state attorney notifies PCSO by email that the item can be purged. Frank and his team then check to make sure there are no additional charges or co-defendants before getting rid of it.
When Frank took over the evidence warehouse in 2013, the department had about 93,000 items. Today, they have purged about 40% of those items, thanks to the automatic notifications provided by the QueTel software.
“The state attorney's office gave us basically a blanket sign-off for anything past this date,” he said. “Anything that was obviously over two years old, they told us that we can get rid of. They afforded us the opportunity to make some decisions and get rid of that stuff.”
That frees up money in the agency's budget for things like more cops on the street.
“You either have to get rid of stuff or you have to build new buildings. Obviously getting rid of this stuff is a whole lot more efficient than building new buildings,” he said, “and the notifications from QueTel afford us the opportunity to get rid of the stuff at our earliest convenience.”
Frank says he and his team are constantly learning how to make the most of the system, and he appreciates the customer service provided by QueTel.
“The support services are outstanding,” he said, “because anytime we have a question, they're literally a phone call away, and they're very helpful.”