Property Standards #7
Design and Layout for the Big Three
(from the Evidence Log Vol. 98, No.3)


Property Standards #7:
Design and layout for the Big Three
Firearms, Narcotics and Money

By Gordon A. Bowers

Some items of in-custody property, by their very nature, require extra protection, security, and handling precautions.  Items such as money precious metals jewelry, firearms, and drugs are some that should be considered.  The agency may set its own guidelines and determine the degree of extra security required.  Providing locked containers, such as vaults, lockers, or interior rooms, should satisfy the requirements of the standard.  Further restrictions on access to certain areas also enhance security precautions.  It is not necessary, however, for each type of item to have its own separate secure area.  CALEA 84.1.2
The size of the property room is influenced, of course, by the size of the agency and its workload, but when a systematic disposal / release program is used, the size of the room(s) can be restricted to lesser dimensions.  One of the most important aspects in the design is the need to closely control certain items, such as guns, currency, jewelry and narcotics.  POST - Managing Property In Law Enforcement Agencies, Page 3, 1984
Firearms, Narcotics, and Cash should be segregated from other property.  An ideal option would be within a separate locked and alarmed room totally within the confines of the property room. CAPE - Property Manual, Page 3, 11/11/95.


          In last issue's article, we discussed general guidelines for property room layout and design.  In this article, we will specifically address requirements for firearms, narcotics and money.  Narcotics seems to be the biggest hazard, whether from the physical danger of contact or inhalation, the theft risk due to its high value per volume, or the fact that its mere possession is a crime whether or not it is stolen.  Firearms and narcotics share the danger and the potential publicity nightmare, that after being stolen they frequently end up going back to the underworld, where they further injure people and aggravate law enforcement efforts to eliminate crime.

          The policy statements above emphasize the unique hazards presented by these three types of evidence.  We will share some specific policy statements on each type of property, and then address design and layout issues related to each.

Firearms

Because firearms are such a high profile item, storage must be a priority within any property operation, along with narcotics and high value items.  The following storage guidelines are suggested:

- Firearms room should be constructed in a manner that would prevent unwarranted entry.  Concrete block walls, Cyclone fencing, walls slab to slab or slab to roof would be acceptable material.

- Firearms room should have a locking mechanism that is not easily compromised.

- Firearms room should be alarmed independent of the regular intrusion alarm system.  It should also include door contacts and infrared or motion sensors.

- Shelving should be designed for the efficient storage of both long guns and handguns.  A small area should be reserved for the storage of unusual pieces such as machine guns, small canons etc.

- The storage scheme should be consistent with the overall storage scheme of the property room.

CAPE - Property Manual, Page 30, 11/11/95


          The picture right shows inefficient gun storage.  Handguns and long guns, some boxed and some in cases, are stacked on one another on each shelf.  Any time guns are stacked on top of one another, the retrieval time is increased significantly, because the upper boxes have to be moved and replaced to get at the items below them on the shelving.  Use of different size and shape containers also hampers efficiency.

Contrast that photo with the single stacking of long guns in standardized boxes shown below.  Note that they are stored on edge on narrow shelves, so that each box is accessible without moving any other ones.  The gun boxes provide a system that best utilizes available space, provide a suitable container to transport evidence to court, and make retrieval extremely simple. Don't stack boxes.  Configure the shelves based on the boxes being on edge and only one high to eliminate having to pull one box out from beneath others, which makes retrieval easier.  Make sure the aisle is wide enough to pull out the long gun boxes.  The photo at left also shows mobile shelving.  With the rolling banks of shelves, there is not a need to have every aisle wide, because the racks can be moved to allow more or less aisle space as needed.  Obviously the storage methodology can have great impact on the ease with which guns can be located, stored, or retrieved.

All firearms, including those "ready for destruction," should be stored in a secure gun room.  They should be removed from the active inventory as soon as possible, but retained in a special designated and secured area in the gun room.  Any firean-ns currently stored outside the gun room should be moved to the more secure environment.  Remember that your "Gun Room" may be a locked gun cabinet or even a padlocked drawer in small departments.  Separation and security are the key issues.

Narcotics

Narcotics evidence shall never be commingled with any other property types.  All items under this category must be handled and processed with extreme caution.  CAPE - Property Manual, Page 29, 11/11/95

These are recommended features of a narcotics storage room.  Property room must be impervious to entry and should be constructed of either concrete block wall or DEA approved heavy gauge fencing.

- Proper room shall have an adequate venting system that will not impact other operations environmentally.

- Storage Identifiers must be consistent with the storage scheme of the Evidence and Property Unit.

- When practical, locking devices should be designed so that more than one person is needed to open them, i.e. Key System.

- Room should be alarmed independently from the overall property room alarm system.

- Alarm system at a minimum should consist of an intrusion alarm, i.e. door or vent contacts and some type of motion infrared sensors.

- An entry log should be maintained either electronically (assigned alarm entry codes) or by hand of all entries.

- In the event that a narcotics evidence room is not practical, because of either budgetary constraints or a narcotics volume that does not justify the expense, a safe within a secured room would serve the purpose.  For example, a secured room with a safe for narcotics, a safe for money and lockers for firearms would be acceptable, providing most of the aforementioned requirements still were met. CAPE - Property Manual, Page 28-29, 11/11/95


          The Narcotics Room or Vault needs to be designed in a manner that provides ultimate security, environmental safety, and easy retrieval.

          Using closed boxes to store narcotics envelopes limits visibility of the contents, requires opening of the boxes for each search or retrieval, and slows down the entire process.  A reasonable estimate is that at least 85-90% of stored narcotics contraband would fit in a uniform-sized narcotics envelope such as is currently used in many agencies.  It is suggested that an open type of bin or drawer be used to store these narcotics envelopes, and that they be stored in numerical order, just as case reports would be filed in a file drawer.  Recovery of a particular envelope would then be no more difficult than pulling a report from a file.

          The remainder of the items would be stored in an appropriate sized box on adjustable shelving, with evidence from only one case in each box, and the box clearly marked, also stored in report number order.  The mere stacking of boxes without adequate shelving exacerbates the problems with retrieving a particular item. Sometimes Property Room employees need to move many boxes to get to the proper one, and then dig through it to find the single envelope that they are required to produce for a court appearance or for lab analysis.  Even if the process adds just a minute per retrieval, it could total a week or more of lost time during the course of a year.  A well designed system would minimize not only the wasted time, but also the employees' frustration in searching for specific items.

          In addition to the narcotics storage space designated for active case envelopes or boxes, there needs to be another secure space in the narcotics room or vault specifically for those items which have been signed off for destruction.  A process needs to be in place for such items to be moved to that location and secured there as soon as they are signed off.  This makes inventory much easier, and allows monitoring of the quantity of narcotics awaiting destruction to ensure that scheduling a destruction trip is not overlooked.  Drugs for disposal should never be stored outside the narcotics vault, as drugs from signed off cases are the most likely targets for theft.

          A properly designed property room must consider that narcotics need to be stored in an area ventilated out of the building.  The strong smell of the marijuana can make working in an unventilated area unpleasant, but odors of such drugs as PCP and many drug precursors can be injurious or even deadly.  Concern for the environmental conditions of the area is increasingly important, and ftimes can remain dangerous even if the employees become desensitized to the smell.  Proper packaging of narcotics will be addressed in a future article of this series.

           Every agency's policy statement (general orders, department directives, or property manual) needs to specifically outline procedures for the handling, storage and transportation, and auditing of narcotics for destruction.  Minimum standard requirements should also include requiring witnesses to audit the destruction, and an armed sworn escort to the destruction site.  Some incinerator sites have requirements for the minimum number of escorts needed to enter their premises for the destruction,

Valuables & Cash

Unlike narcotics, biological material and firearms, cash or other valuables such as jewelry and bonds, in themselves, do not pose physical danger in most situations.  Extreme caution, however, must be used, not only when handling these, but particularly in the storage and maintenance of such high profile items.  CAPE-Property Manual, Page 29, 11/11/95 


          Having money and narcotics secured in one high security location is acceptable, but they should be separated there to the extent possible.  Regular inventories are substantially easier when, narcotics, and money are secured away from less sensitive evidence, just as is the case with firearms.

          Someone once facetiously said that the best property room would be an empty one, so that nobody could steal from it.  In the case of money, this can be partly possible.  Many departments across the country are moving money evidence to bank accounts.  Some are having the money prepared as a deposit to a bank rather than as evidence to the property room, and others are moving it to a bank immediately upon it being checked into the property room.  Depositing it directly eliminates one chance for counting errors, since the bank's count is considered binding once the deposit is made, and the actual cash is no longer available for recount.

          In addition, the immediate deposit method maximizes the interest income provided for the agency's jurisdiction.  If immediate deposit is used, it becomes the responsibility of the officer booking the property to notify the property room if there is a specific need for the physical money itself retained as evidence.  This would include such cases as a bill with a message written on it, counterfeit bills, bills or coins with numismatic value, a bill with cocaine residue from being used as a coke straw when it was probable cause for a search, etc.

          In the next article of this series, we will move into packaging standards.  Stay tuned! 
 



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