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What Is an Evidence Log?

Police use an evidence log to track when items were collected and to ensure evidence is properly handled.
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  • Written By: Patrick Roland
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2014
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Evidence is a crucial part of the criminal justice system, and courts go to great lengths to prevent evidence tampering. One of the ways this is prevented is by having an evidence log. This sheet is a way for police to input data about the evidence collected, to keep track of who has checked it out and when and to assure that it is safely held until it is needed in court. This log is a piece of paperwork that is issued by the evidence department of a police department.

The evidence log can look different from one police department to the next, but each log generally has a series of similar elements that serve to protect the reliability of the evidence. No matter whether a detective is checking in a hair sample, blood, a weapon or even a car, he or she fills out the evidence log before dropping off the item. Each log asks for a list of the evidence being submitted, often requiring physical descriptions, the location found and other information. More sophisticated computerized logs actually allow for pictures of the criminal evidence to be part of the log. Each log also has a check-in and check-out area where authorized personnel, such as attorneys and police officers, can borrow the evidence for examination.

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In addition, the evidence log usually includes details about the case to which the evidence is tied. Generally, a case number is assigned any time a crime is committed, and this number stays with the evidence. The type of crime usually also is listed in the evidence log and can range from theft to child custody cases to murder. These elements act as a quick reference point for anyone reviewing the evidence and are especially useful when cases have been dormant for an extended period of time.

The purpose of the evidence log is twofold. First, it is a cataloging system necessary for keeping evidence easily accessible. Depending on the size of the police department, there can be hundreds or thousands of pieces of individual evidence, and retrieving them would be impossible without a log to assign it a number and a space in the evidence room. Secondly, this is a safety precaution that provides the court system with the confidence that evidence has not been tampered with or lost. The logging system puts responsibility for keeping the evidence intact squarely on the shoulders of those who check it out, making them accountable.

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whiteplane
Post 3

I remember there was a big story here about 15 years ago that involved police corruption in a murder case. Apparently a crooked cop had tampered with an evidence log to make it look like a piece of evidence hadn't been removed. The evidence was integral to the case. It was a pretty clumsy operation because the cop was caught and the defendant was found guilty. But this just goes to show that no system is foolproof. Even an evidence log can be tampered with when it is in the control of the police.

chivebasil
Post 2

I just finished up with library school and I remember in one of my classes we discussed evidence logs. Apparently in certain large police departments and other law enforcement agencies they will hire a cataloger or someone with library training to manage and archive their evidence log in conjunction with official police personnel. This is because in some areas the length and complexity of this log is so overwhelming that it takes a trained professional to ensure that it is properly maintained. There are not a lot of these jobs, but some librarians go on to be managers of evidence. Something you would never think of.

truman12
Post 1

Anyone who has seen a cop movie or TV show in the last 30 years will likely be familiar with the evidence log. This small piece of police procedure seems to make its way into a remarkable number of plots. I think this is because there is an undeniable fascination with the tools and spoils of crime.

When we think of the evidence log we usually think of elaborate weapons and then stacks of cash or diamonds. And because we associate everything inside with crime, our imaginations inevitably develop elaborate fantasies about how wild or sordid the items will be. The evidence locker, much like a treasure room, could be filled up with anything the mind can conjure up.

So that is why I think it shows p some much on film and figures so heavily into so many story lines. People want to see whats actually inside and there is an illicit thrill in thinking about taking something. I imagine that we will see evidence rooms figure into cop stories for a long time to come.

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