A few months ago, the records room of the Westminster Police Department was a daunting sight. Metal filing cabinets were stuffed front-to-back with folders, and those that didn’t fit were stacked high on top and around the sides in the modestly-sized room.
To walk around, you’d have to pick your way through narrow paths, said Capt. Nikki Heuer of the Support Services Bureau.
Today, the piles of files have been mostly tamed. Through a capital project, the police department has a new shelving system, with roller racking similar to a research library. Each file is tagged with a barcode for easier tracking and retrieval.
The records room update is the third in a series of modernization projects the Westminster Police Department has taken on in recent years for efficiency and space-saving.
The first step took place in 2016 when the department invested in a software called PowerDMS which makes it easier to track dissemination of policy changes and in-service training.
Whenever there is a change to a policy or procedure in the department, the software lets supervisors track when their officers have seen and signed off on the policies.
Chief Thomas Ledwell said that having the full database of policies searchable makes it easy for officers to find a specific section for reference if a citizen has a question.
The system is cloud-based, meaning that officers have access to it in their patrol vehicles or through a smartphone, for example.
Carroll is not the first Maryland police department to use this software. It was adopted by the Baltimore City Police Department in 2016, the Baltimore Sun reported, after the court questioned whether Officer Edward M. Nero had been trained in a new policy during his trial surrounding the death of Freddie Gray.
The software can be used for in-service training tests that don’t require in-person instructions. The training materials can then be stored in PowerDMS for future reference.
The initial purchase of the software was for $6,629 and licensing costs were $4,252 in May of 2017, $4,380 in April of 2018 and $4,512 in March of 2019, according to police records.
Evidence and property room:
The evidence and property room updates were designed to save space, create more security and make it faster for officers preparing for a day in court.
A metal cage gate that was installed separates evidence and property storage from the quartermaster supplies and office space.
The bid for the project stated its goals as, “Increase efficiency, maximize organization and protect the ‘Chain of Custody.’"
Previously, evidence was organized by officer. Ledwell said this wasn’t efficient because different members’ duties require different levels of evidence collection. Detectives, for example would be overflowing their assigned spaces.
Now there is new shelving and the evidence is stored by type, meaning for example that small items in envelopes are stored separately from seized long guns or drugs.
The city accepted a contract bid from the company STORAGELogic, of Maryland, for $19,695 for the shelving and cage system during the 2017 financial year.
In addition to the physical updates to the space, a barcode for each item is tied to tracking and management software. The shelving location of each item is recorded, making it much faster to retrieve them.
The electronic system also gives stewards notifications when stored items can be purged, whether by returning them to citizens or disposing of them. Ledwell said this notification system goes a long way toward saving space.
Regular and random audits continue to be part of the evidence and property storage, he said.
The adjacent quartermaster area, where uniforms and equipment are stored is also now more organized. Heuer said that even simple changes like adding divers for small items inside of drawers increased the speed with which officers can find things.
“It has paid dividends,” Ledwell said of the updates to the space.
The Records Room’s high-density shelving installation was finished up in the final weeks of the 2019 fiscal year, which ended on June 30.
The city contracted once again with STORAGELogic of Maryland for the project, with a cost of $47,522.
In the process of transferring the files to the new system, the department was able to identify files that were being retained beyond their purge date. Clearing those out saved a lot of physical space.
Similarly to property and evidence, paper files are now bar-coded so they can be managed electronically. This software notifies the department when a file’s purge date has been reached, and they hope that files will not build up as much again in the future. The department will pay an annual maintenance fee of $314.40, according to the bid.
Heuer noted there is a lot more space on the shelves. In the old cabinets, even shuffling through the files could be challenge because they were so jammed together.
A lot of files can be stored digitally, but others are required to be stored physically. For example, some documents contain signatures that are considered evidence.
The department doesn’t expect to see any changes to its fee schedule for citizens to obtain copies of police reports, Ledwell said.
Though the capital part of the project has passed, there’s still work to do transferring about 1,800 files into the new system, Heuer said, but the physical and digital framework is now in place.