From the Pages of The Evidence Log
Handling of Currency
By Steve Berdrow
Have you ever noticed that when you cash a check or make a cash withdrawal at the bank, the teller itemizes the quantity of each denomination of bill that is given? There is a very good reason for that. There is, less chance of an error when the currency is documented in that manner.
When was the last time you took in currency as evidence and the officer had counted it incorrectly? As one of the "Big Three" that most commonly gets Property Sections and Police Departments in trouble (money, guns & drugs), currency needs to be handled with great care. Is there something to be learned from the banking industry? You bet there is!
The adjoining illustration shows the currency envelope that we have developed for the Burbank Police Department. The top portion calls for the usual information, including property type, report number, suspect, date, etc.. The middle section, copied and expanded from a bank withdrawal slip, has spaces for itemizing the denominations of both currency and coins, subtotals for both, and a grand total. The next two lines require the signature of the officer submitting the currency and the signature of another employee who verifies the count. This "Two Person Rule" is very important when dealing with currency because it reduces errors and other problems. An effective method of sealing the envelope is to print boxes partially over the rear flap for the signatures of the employee booking the currency and the employee verifying the count. When the envelope is sealed and signed, clear tape is placed over the signatures and the flap seal.
If the envelope is not large enough for the amount of cash present, a larger container such as a box or paper bag may be used for storage, but it should still have a currency envelope completed and attached to the container. The Property Room should have the authority to refuse to accept any currency envelope that is not completely filled out. After verifying that all of the required information is present, all we do is check the math; we do not open the envelope. Our job is to store evidence, period!
This procedure will not completely eliminate errors, but it will reduce them by making the officer take a little more time when counting, and make it easier for the verifying officer to make an accurate re-count.
If you do not have a computerized inventory system, a ledger should be kept to properly track the amount of currency coming in and going out, and the totals of both active currency and currency that has been signed off for disposition. Active currency and currency approved for disposition should be stored separately, but in the same extra secure area of the Property Room. A threshold amount set for prompting actual disposition of currency for which disposition has been approved ($2,000 to $3,000 is recommended) should not be exceeded. Managers and supervisors need to routinely monitor the ledgers to assure compliance.
As mentioned above, currency envelopes are not opened in the Property Room. When we meet our "threshold amount," we turn the envelopes over to our in-house finance clerk for counting and for deposit with the City Treasurer. This person also will use the "Two Person Rule" when the envelopes are opened and counted for deposit, using a person from an entirely different Unit of the Department.
In this column of The Evidence Log, we described our storage of these currency envelopes in plastic drawers made to the proper size for the envelopes. But there is an underlying question that needs to be asked: "Do we really need to keep cash in the Property Room at all?" Unless the money is the actual evidence, such as a rolled bill used as a "coke straw," or a bill from a dye pack, or a coin with numismatic value, the answer very well may be "no." More and more agencies are depositing currency directly into interest bearing accounts, and then just writing a check if at some future point in time the money has to be released.
This procedure adds a little to the paperwork part of our job, but it removes a huge target item from the Property Room and produces some interest income for the Department, both of which may be very advantageous in the long run.