IACP LogoAlexandria, VA (Oct 7, 2013) – The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) plans to push for a more broad-brush look at evidence and how it’s managed, says John Firman, director of IACP’s Research Center. For instance, Firman asserts, “There is an over-reliance on  high-level technology like DNA,” adding that it is more crucial to look at other relevant aspects tied to evidence such as whether photos and lineups were handled properly. After all, Firman said, “What the eyewitness claims to be the suspect in a case by picking him out can also be viewed as evidence.”

The IACP has aggressively set many policies on how evidence should be managed as part of an umbrella effort to remind its members--police chiefs of agencies small and large across the country--that tight evidence management is part of a good investigation. As a case in point, the IACP recently held a national summit on wrongful convictions that was funded by the Department of Justice and co-hosted by The Innocence Project. “We’re going to do some field testing around recommendations in the report,” Firman said. “Part of those recommendations around evidence and evidence management is tied to wrongful convictions.” However, Firman argues that the term “wrongful conviction” may not be justified. Instead, he said the IACP suggests that the term “wrongful arrest” may be more accurate. “This speaks to wrongful investigation, and even possibly wrongful identification by an eyewitness,” Firman said. “Evidence management will be particularly critical as we go into the field and start testing out the premise that police can do better in their investigative practices relevant to whether or not they have the right suspect.”

The IACP strongly believes technology must be leveraged as part of improving evidence management. What’s more, the organization believes evidence management should be automated. Yet, Firman qualifies this position by noting automation should occur “where reasonable.” Therefore, a small agency may not need or be able to afford  software for managing evidence. For most agencies, however, it’s essential. “The technology is readily available, so there’s no excuse for not having it,” Firman said.

ChiefJohnsonThe EvidenceOnQ software is a good example of how automating evidence management can bring numerous efficiencies to a law enforcement agency while ensuring that there is proper chain of custody. A big issue tied to the benefits of this software is what the IACP views as an unacceptable backlog of evidence that most agencies must handle. The IACP’s concern over this backlog is that there may be evidence that could exonerate someone or connect a person to a crime and be used to convict him. Firman notes that his group wants more federal money provided to alleviate the backlog and to give more resources to crime labs to process evidence such as DNA. To let this problem persist, Firman said, is “irreconcilable with good law enforcement investigative practices.”

Michael Rizzo, IACP’s director for the Violence Against Women Unit, adds that there have been many cases involving sexual assault in some cities where rape kits have not been tested, and cites Detroit, Philadelphia and Baltimore as among the worst offenders. To prevent this, Rizzo contends, “There needs to be continuous auditing and assessing so a chief won’t be blindsided.”

John San Agustin, consultant on case management solutions for the El Paso County, Colorado, Sheriff’s Office, the ability to see all evidence in a property room without having to physically go look for it is integral to streamlined evidence management. “Not only does this tell you what you need to test, but (by using a program like EvidenceOnQ) it also identifies specific items that you still need to go out and get from an investigative standpoint,” San Agustin said. “A program like EvidenceOnQ allows you to look at specific items that may have better value, and helps you determine which items to send to the lab immediately for analysis.”

Understandably, no police chief can be on top of every issue in his agency to the fullest extent at all times. Yet Firman says the IACP recommends some kind of electronic dashboard be developed by a third-party vendor so chiefs have visibility each day of key issues: officer-involved shootings, cases under investigation, corruption, number of arrests, calls for service, crimes solved, homicide arrests made, etc. Would evidence status also be on the dashboard? Probably not, Firman said. But what is going to be on the dashboard is the issue of investigations that are open and how they’re proceeding. “Obviously, evidence becomes a critical piece of this as part of the open investigation protocol,” Firman said. At the very least, Firman believes it’s essential that chiefs understand and support chain of custody---how evidence is managed and how the reporting on evidence content is handled. “This comes down to good leadership,” Firman said. “There must be tracking and inspection reports.”

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"We were able to move approximately 1.4 million pieces of property in three weeks with complete records of each step." Evidence Supervisor Darrell Allen, San Antonio PD, TX