Frank McCully is an investigator with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office in upstate New York, a medium-sized sheriff’s office with about 45 deputies. He has more than 18 years of law enforcement experience and currently oversees the property and evidence warehouse, which has thousands of pieces of evidence consisting of drugs, guns, valuables, mobile devices, and other digital devices.
Frank also teaches a property and evidence management class for the Department of Criminal Justice Services in New York State. You can read the full interview here or watch this video with Frank’s shortened interview.
Watch The Full Interview
Before ERIN7, how did you manage property and evidence?
I worked in my previous job for 11 years at a police department not too far from here. It was a small agency, so we did everything ourselves. We went to the call, made the traffic stops, collected the evidence, made the arrest, and maintained our own property and evidence. The “evidence building” at my old agency was a closet with a couple of shelves, and that was it.
Law enforcement officers used paper property receipts. When every deputy or investigator came in contact with a piece of property, they had to take out a form and handwrite a detailed description. Then they had to build the chain of custody at the bottom of that piece of paper. That piece of paper followed that piece of property from the time it was collected until the time it came into my possession, where it then went into a binder. The piece of paper went into a binder and the item went on a shelf, and then it got entered into the computer software were using at the time.
There was a lot of redundancy that it didn’t have to be there.
When I came to my current department over 5 years ago, we used old software from 1995 that was designed for warehousing. Our property and evidence building is very large–like a warehouse. There’s even a container inside for our gun vault.
The investigative process was that a deputy went to a call, collected 10 pieces of evidence, and put all 10 in a handwritten property receipt. The receipt got passed into this building. The receipt got logged, they got inventoried, and they got put away, and that piece of paper went into a binder. The software resided only in this building with no remote access. It wasn’t a chain of custody documentation. It was basically an inventory. The warehousing software showed that an item was here and where it was.
It took a lot of time to check in or check out physical evidence, to note whether it was going to the lab, whether it was going to court, whether it was being released back to the owner, or being destroyed. The process was very time-consuming.
What was the most frustrating part of keeping track of evidence manually?
I had to maintain possession not only of the property itself, but of the paperwork that went along with it. Dealing with human error was the biggest hurdle, such as not being able to read somebody’s handwriting on a property receipt, people not filling out the right boxes, and people who didn’t want to fill out a box putting “not applicable,” or lining through something that needed to be filled out.
There’s a lot of integrity built into the chain of custody data and each piece of original evidence that we receive in this building. There are also court proceedings where we need to make sure that all of that paperwork is done the same way every single time.
The chain of custody, the continuity of that item, and that paperwork could make or break a case.
It goes into this facility for safe storage, and it has to be stored here and then potentially used in court cases or whatever it may be. It has to be in the same condition whether it’s paperwork or the actual item, it has to be in the same condition when it comes out of this building.
Was there a time when the manual paper system broke down?
There were plenty of times when paperwork had to get kicked back to the deputy for them to make a correction or complete it the right way. That was a big part of my job then, making sure that the paperwork was simply filled out correctly. It wasn’t efficient. And everyone hated the re-work.
How did you come to use ERIN7?
By 2021 we were the only law enforcement agency in the country still using that old 1995 software. Tech support was going away. The tech support rep recommended that we seek an alternative. So I spoke with colleagues from other local law enforcement organizations that I work with and some of them used ERIN Technology and recommended their digital evidence management system (DEMS).
What was on your wish list of things that you wanted to be able to accomplish with the new system?
I wanted there to be a seamless transition. The old program had labels we put onto the evidence item that would show the location inside the building. It had to seamlessly bring in the locations that we’d used for years. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel as far as the locations.
I needed evidence management technology that was easy to learn, easy for me to teach to the other deputies, and easy for them to retain. Law enforcement officials are creatures of habit. When you put different evidence management processes in front of them, they almost vapor lock! They want nothing to do with it.
But if it’s easy, if you put the evidence management technology in front of me and say, “Here are the 6 boxes that you have to fill out when you create a case; here’s the property receipt that we’ve been filling out; and there’s 10 boxes right off the bat that you have to handwrite, now I eliminated 4 boxes, and all you have to do is type it on a computer!”
The evidence creator also needed to be easily customizable and allow for remote access from a computer, laptop, or cell phone. We can no longer require people to go to a binder in the evidence room and flip through pages.
Did ERIN7 meet your requirements?
Yes! ERIN7 is so simple to use that once you do one task, you’ll never forget how to go back and do that task. For example, you add locations once. I recently went back into the program because we added a new location and it was like riding a bike. I just jumped back onto the program, went right back into the spot I needed and created the location.
ERIN7 was easy to customize for our needs and it grew with us. You make the digital evidence management solution what you want it to be. You build your users, you build your locations, and you create the template that you want law enforcement personnel to fill in. You make it a required field or an optional field. It is 100% customizable. Best of all, there was no re-work for illegible or missing information like there was on the paper form!
How did ERIN7 fit into your budget?
From a price point, compared to other software that tracks similar digital evidence assets, you can’t beat ERIN7. Customization is priceless. Instead of buying a cloud-based system where they say, “Here are fields you must complete for this to be a validated entry,” that’s just not the case with ERIN7. You make it what you want. You can’t beat the price point for what you get and the tech support that’s included.
Did you have pretty good buy-in from everyone when you made the switch to ERIN7? How did you migrate?
We didn’t migrate everything at once. We migrated evidence collection of cases that were going to be here for a while and items we needed to retain for a while. What we found easier was to follow the semiannual building purge. We simply removed those items from our old software, and we didn’t put them into the new digital evidence management software.
The buy-in was good but it took a little while. I used the program by myself for 10 months or so, where they were still doing it the way that they always did it. Every time law enforcement personnel would generate a handwritten property receipt and turn it in, I would take that property receipt and input that information into ERIN7: checks and balances!
I think we stretched it out way too long here. Almost a year of me inputting the stuff second to their property receipts was entirely too long.
Deputies saw the advantages, so it made it a lot easier to teach them the proper way to do it. I wanted the deputy taking that property to take ownership of the program also.
How much help did Dennis Lamb and the Erin Technology team provide you with training?
Dennis did a very thorough walkthrough over Zoom. He took control of the computer to show me the setup of the initial settings, such as basic locations. Dennis was great, and now his support team is fantastic. Whenever I have an issue, which is rare, I reach out to ERIN Technology, and I get a response back within moments. It’s fantastic.
Has ERIN7 improved your property and evidence management?
We been using ERIN7 for about a year and a half. With ERIN7, kicking back forms to law enforcement officials doesn’t happen anymore because it’s 100% computer-based. There’s no kicking anything back. Law enforcement personnel complete it, and it’s done. It is much more efficient and consistent.
Is there anything new that you’re able to do now that you weren’t able to do before?
To be able to show the administrative staff that law enforcement is a business! They want us to be productive. Now that there’s enough data in our ERIN7 software, I can start running reports and graphs to provide to my administrative staff. Reports such as:
- What digital evidence content we took in last year
- What went out of our digital evidence storage
- How productive is our CoC process? The bar graphs are really easy to use, but there’s so much more that I can get into.
It is nice to have everybody able to remotely access every bit of property that we have here just by logging into the program. Now, whether they’re in their car or at home, on a laptop, or on a phone–it doesn’t matter what device–they can log in to their ERIN7 user account and look at every item with a very good description in our digital evidence system for any case. They can see if it’s out to the lab. They can see if it’s been destroyed. They can see if it’s been returned to the owner or if it’s still here. There’s no question it cut back on my phone calls and inquiries significantly because all they have to do is log in and do it themselves.
When it comes time for me to retire in about 3 years, I want to be able to bring someone up to speed quickly. I know ERIN7 will be the easiest part to transition from me to somebody else.
What advice would you give another law enforcement office looking to move to software?
When you’re ready to migrate, make sure you are logistically ready to do it:
- Prepare your staff to go to a new electronic evidence program
- Know what digital evidence assets you want to migrate into the new digital evidence system.
I recommended ERIN7 to several different agencies in the short time we’ve used it. I’ve invited law enforcement agencies here to see ERIN7 in action. I’ve also gone to other law enforcement agencies to show them how I log in from their location to show them what we do in our office.
I also teach a property and evidence management class for the Department of Criminal Justice Services in New York State. Routinely, I typically talk to other property room managers who do what I do. I like sharing the information that I have available to me.
I would honestly recommend this program to any law enforcement organization, big or small, because ERIN7 is user-friendly, customizable, and cost-effective.
More questions? Want a demo? Get in touch with ERIN.
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