Law enforcement officers are hard-working individuals who have a difficult and dangerous set of responsibilities. They have to maintain peace and order while being non-threatening and authoritative without disrespecting the civil liberties of citizens. They must be quick to decide on a course of action in any crisis, such as a robbery. Law enforcement officers also must perform administrative tasks, such as case paperwork, evidence tracking, and even public relations for the department.
Similar to any career, officers might make mistakes on the job. Mishearing sentences in audio transcriptions, accidents with patrol cars, and losing evidence are all capable of happening. Losing evidence, for instance, might cost an officer their badge, particularly in high-profile cases. Though no one wants this to happen, officers should know how to deal with these situations.
In this article, we will share with you three tips on how to deal with missing or mishandled evidence:
1. Notify All Parties That Must Know of the Loss
When an investigating officer realizes that evidence is missing or had been mishandled, they will need to tell their immediate supervisor immediately. The investigator must notify in writing, putting on record the details they remember to avoid confusion when they attempt to recall the events. Telling the prosecuting attorney is also an advisable step, as they can figure out how the compromised or lost evidence might impact the case.
The person in charge of evidence should also be informed and provided a report on the loss or mishandling, the circumstances within which it happened, and other pertinent information. They would have to update the evidence management system and log the status of the evidence accordingly. At this point, it is important that the officer is as honest as possible about the details.
2. Continue with the Investigation
After informing everyone who must know about the loss, the officer must then assess the situation and decide how to proceed, given the circumstances. They must consider the other aspects of the case — had the suspect confessed, or is the case going to the court? Is there other evidence that supports the case or other leads that can be followed up? A case should not be given up just because of missing evidence because there may be other ways to get similar proof, especially when investigating a repeat offender.
Losing or compromising evidence is also not an indication of the investigator’s lack of competence. This is because everyone, even the most dedicated and experienced officers, can make mistakes. The most important part comes after the loss, or what the officer plans on doing next. As long as they follow the rules of investigation and come up with new evidence, the mishandling will not make such a big impact on the overall outcome of the case.
3. Prevent Similar Events from Occurring Again
Law enforcement agencies should take steps to ensure that losses or mishandlings are minimized in the future. The first step towards this is by assigning an employee specifically for overseeing evidence and its chain of custody. This increases the chances of evidence being archived well and of prosecutors being able to use them in building solid cases.
Creating this as a separate job––not a function of another––keeps the person fully engaged in it. If they are working on other tasks at the same time, they might commit errors in logging and archiving the evidence. Officers doing double duty might also resent the additional tasks that they must perform as the person in charge of evidence management.
Agencies should also look into getting updates for their system. Getting storage areas with temperature controls, locks and alarm systems should be a standard for law enforcement departments.
Mishandling evidence is an unfortunate but common enough occurrence at law enforcement agencies. Officers should exert effort in following the chain of custody for evidence so that the legwork and investigations involved in obtaining it would not be forfeited. Remember that tracking and monitoring evidence properly will help minimize such losses in a department.
If you are looking for evidence tracking solutions for your agency, get in touch with us today to see how we can help!