Best Practices for Evidence Room Policies and Procedures

Several years ago, the state of Minnesota conducted a best practices review for property evidence room policies and procedures manuals. The information included in this review includes five steps identified as being essential to best practices for the management of property and evidence rooms. The steps were developed using standards and recommendations from various law enforcement agencies; the International Association for Property and Evidence, Inc., (IAPE) Standards; and the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

Maintain a secure facility

A secure property and evidence room is required to maintain chain of custody and to safeguard the items stored in the property and evidence room. Agencies should have proper access controls to prevent unauthorized entry into secure storage areas. These controls should include:

  • Key or access card controls
  • Access logs that document entries into the property and evidence room
  • Enhanced security areas for items such as currency, firearms, jewelry, and drugs
  • After-hours access controls
  • Alarms and surveillance cameras/videos operated on a 24-hour basis.

Ideally, the property and evidence room personnel should be located adjacent to the property and evidence room, but not within the confines of the storage area. Locating personnel outside the storage area minimizes the number of people having access to the storage area. Consideration needs to be given to large items, such as vehicles. If the facility is unable to accommodate large or bulky items, alternative arrangements for the secure storage of the items will need to be made.

Assign sufficient and qualified personnel to the property and evidence room

Proper staffing of the property and evidence room is critical for the integrity of chain-of-custody, the safe preservation of property and evidence, and the timely and legal disposition of property and evidence. Property and evidence room staffing may be comprised of sworn officers or civilians, or a combination of sworn officers and civilians.

Specialized training should be provided to property and evidence room personnel. The training should include protocols for all aspects of property and evidence handling and specific legal requirements unique to state and local regulations. The training also needs to include specialized safety training on how to handle items such as hazardous materials, biohazards, and firearms. Agencies should consider membership in professional associations that can provide opportunities for networking and training.

The rotation of personnel in the property and evidence room should be discouraged, as it increases the number of people allowed access to the secure and restricted storage areas. More people with access to the property and evidence room increases the likelihood of an error in the tracking of the property or a theft of property/evidence. It will also increase the frequency of key/access code changes, the number of people requiring specialized training, and the number of people who may be in the chain of custody for a piece of evidence.

Develop and implement a policies and procedures manual for the property and evidence room

In order to protect the integrity of the property and evidence, law enforcement agencies need to develop, adopt, and implement policies and procedures for the proper handling and disposition of property and evidence. Otherwise, property and evidence room personnel will be forced to rely on their own judgment in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.

Policies are general statements that reflect the agency’s intent and also serve as a guide to provide consistency in carrying out the agency’s mission and meeting established goals. Procedures outline detailed and specific methods for meeting the policies set forth by the agency.

A written policies and procedures manual should describe procedures as they are intended to be performed, indicate who will perform which procedures, and explain the design and purpose of control-related procedures. Well-written policies and procedures establish responsibilities, provide guidance for employees, enhance employees’ understanding of their role in the control system, improve efficiency, and maintain consistency in procedures, even during employee transitions.

All personnel involved with property and evidence room management should have easy access to the property and evidence room policies and procedures manual. In addition, the manual should be shared with all agency employees to help them understand the role they play in protecting the integrity of the items maintained in the property and evidence room.

Conducting an annual review of the policies and procedures manual provides an opportunity for agencies to revise outdated policies and procedures, update any personnel or position changes, and update law changes. Since laws relating to the collection, preservation, and disposition of property and evidence change, it is important that every law enforcement agency maintain a close relationship with prosecutors and the agency’s attorney and obtain their assistance with the review.

Dispose of property and evidence in a timely and legal manner

Overcrowding of a property and evidence room leads to disorganization and the potential loss, damage, or contamination of property and evidence. Timely and legal disposition of property and evidence helps avoid these problems.

Determining when final disposition of the property and evidence may occur requires the tracking of related legal proceedings and a knowledge of the laws regarding the disposition of property and evidence. Therefore, a close working relationship with prosecutors and the agency’s attorney is needed. The tracking of legal proceedings and legal requirements, such as timing and notice requirements, allows for the regular review of when final disposition can occur. In forfeiture situations, the tracking will also facilitate the monthly reporting that must be made to the Office of the State Auditor.

The agency should conduct regular inventories of the property and evidence room to determine whether the property and evidence are ready for final disposition. The retention schedule for documents adopted by the agency’s city, county, or town may provide guidance for the retention of the physical property and evidence that corresponds to the documents.

Perform reviews and audits of property and evidence room procedures

Conducting regular reviews and audits will help law enforcement agencies determine whether policies and procedures for the property and evidence room are being followed on a consistent basis to protect the integrity of the property and evidence. Regular reviews and audits also send a message to everyone in the agency that property and evidence room procedures are important.

Reviews and audits may include unannounced inspections or spot checks by management, internal reviews conducted by agency personnel not assigned to the property and evidence room, peer reviews, or audits by outside non-law enforcement entities. Law enforcement agencies that handle a large amount of property and evidence should consider an external audit on a regular basis.

Reviews and audits may be conducted on a periodic basis, such as monthly or semi-annually, and/or they may be random. For example, procedures may require monthly reviews of access logs, semi-annual audits of enhanced security areas, and random unannounced inspections as deemed appropriate.

Regardless of size, all law enforcement agencies should consider a peer review on a regular basis. A peer review entails members of other law enforcement agencies looking at your agency’s operation. This can be a useful, low-cost tool that can confirm whether there is consistent implementation of all policies and procedures and identify weaknesses in the system. With peer reviews, agencies can inspect each other’s property and evidence rooms and share property and evidence room management techniques and ideas. This type of review will provide many of the benefits of an external audit and may be done at little or no cost.

The IAPE provides world-class training in best practices for evidence and property management room management. An online course has recently been added to the curriculum and the IAPE has a wealth of other evidence resources and certifications.

BerganKDV has certified fraud examiners who can help you review the internal controls needed to properly manage your evidence/property room to help you identify any gaps in your current operation that could lead to criminal prosecutions being lost, a loss of public confidence and possible financial loss. Want to learn more about how these experts can help protect your organization? Start here.

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