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Police Management of Property and Exhibits

Tabled: 5 September 2018

Overview

Property and exhibit management is integral to policing and critical to successful prosecutions. While managing property and exhibits is primarily a clerical function, mismanagement can pose risks to the administration of justice and can impact the community’s perception of police integrity.

Police collect a vast range of property in the course of their duties, encompassing all lost and found, created, surrendered and seized property that comes into their possession. An exhibit is any property in police possession that may be tendered in court as evidence. Victoria Police records show approximately 470 000 items in police possession, stored at more than 200 locations.

In this audit, we examined whether Victoria Police has a control framework for property management that supports high performance and whether it prioritises and sustains improvement projects. We also examined whether Victoria Police stores and secures property in a way that supports frontline staff, reduces associated risks such as OHS risks, and maintains evidentiary value.

We made eight recommendations to Victoria Police.

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Transmittal letter

Ordered to be published

VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT PRINTER September 2018

PP No 437, Session 2014–18

The Hon. Bruce Atkinson MLC
President
Legislative Council
Parliament House
Melbourne
 
The Hon Colin Brooks MP
Speaker
Legislative Assembly
Parliament House
Melbourne
 

Dear Presiding Officers

Under the provisions of section 16AB of the Audit Act 1994, I transmit my report Police Management of Property and Exhibits.

Yours faithfully

Signature of the Auditor-General.png

Andrew Greaves 
Auditor-General

5 September 2018

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Acronyms

FoF finding of fact
GVM green vegetable matter
OHS occupational health and safety
OPP Office of Public Prosecutions
PaLM Property and Laboratory Management
PEMRP Property and Exhibit Management Reform Program
PSC Professional Standards Command
RTO return to owner
SOP Standard Operating Procedure
TALC Transport and Logistics Centre
TEAB tamper-evident audit bag
VAGO Victorian Auditor-General's Office
VPM Victoria Police Manual
WIM Workplace Inspection Manual

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Audit overview

Property and exhibit management is integral to policing and critical to successful prosecutions. While managing property and exhibits is primarily a clerical function, mismanagement of property and exhibits can pose risks to the administration of justice and can impact the community's perception of police integrity.

An exhibit is any property in police possession that may be tendered in court as evidence.

Police collect a vast range of property in the course of their duties, encompassing all lost and found, created, surrendered and seized property that comes into their possession. Victoria Police records show approximately 470 000 items in police possession as at June 2018, stored at more than 200 locations, including police stations, central storage locations, Crime Command and the Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre.

Victoria Police uses its Property and Laboratory Management (PaLM) system to document the description and life cycle of property. This includes when the property comes into police possession, any movements and forensic analysis conducted, and the nature and circumstances surrounding its disposal.

Victoria Police has recently completed an improvement project, the Property and Exhibit Management Reform Program (PEMRP). The PEMRP aimed to improve accountability and governance, integrate legislation, create process efficiencies and reduce risks associated with property management.

In this audit, we examined whether Victoria Police stores and secures property and exhibits effectively and efficiently. In doing so, we considered whether Victoria Police has a control framework for the management of property and exhibits that supports high performance by clearly articulating expectations and internal accountabilities and which enables effective organisational oversight of the function. We also examined whether Victoria Police stores and secures property in a way that supports frontline staff, reduces associated risks such as occupational health and safety (OHS) risks and maintains evidentiary value, and how improvement projects for property management are prioritised and sustained.

Conclusion

Victoria Police holds on to more property than necessary. It cannot be confident that property is kept to a minimum based on its evidentiary value; that its handling and storage is safe and secure; or that its disposal is timely.

This puts strain on staff workloads and storage facilities, and exacerbates problems associated with security and disposal. The volume of property and exhibits, when combined with ineffective systems and processes used to manage them, results in additional avoidable costs for storage and administration and, at times, keeps police members away from their primary operational duties.

The root cause of this inefficiency is a weak control framework for the property management function. While most individual property officers and police members show a genuine commitment to the safe and appropriate handling and management of property at a worksite level, inconsistent and inefficient organisational arrangements do not ensure a consistently high-performing property management function.

While we did not find any evidence that these issues are producing adverse outcomes in investigative or judicial proceedings, inefficient property practices and procedures across Victoria Police are costing more than they should.

Victoria Police's recent concerted effort to implement improvement projects has addressed some important issues, but significant gaps remain. The appointment of the Operational Infrastructure Department as the new property and exhibits capability owner is an important first step to providing strategic leadership and active oversight for this diverse function. However, much work still needs to be completed to ensure that Victoria Police can maintain the momentum of the recent reform initiatives and that the role of the capability owner encompasses all essential aspects of property and exhibits management.

Findings

Property management control framework

Historically, Victoria Police has not had a single point of accountability to provide strategic direction and oversight of this important function. This has resulted in practices and procedures that are inconsistent across the organisation, and administrative inefficiencies:

  • Training and support services are not consistent or always available, leading to inconsistencies in practices.
  • The property management IT system is not fit for purpose and impedes, rather than facilitates, efficient property management.
  • Reporting and oversight arrangements are ineffective and do not provide an organisational view of all property holdings.
  • While there are systems to identify and manage individual property-related OHS risks and associated claims, Victoria Police does not know the volume and extent of these risks or property-related OHS claims across the organisation.

Victoria Police recently established a single organisational owner for the property and exhibit management function, with the Operational Infrastructure Department taking responsibility from 1 July 2018. However, Victoria Police has yet to clearly define the management and oversight responsibilities of this role.

The new property capability owner will need to address all essential aspects of the property management function and receive funding and resources to allow this to happen. While day-to-day property and exhibit management remains at the station or business unit level and divisions/regions remain accountable for managing property under their control, an effective capability owner will need to:

  • monitor coordinated reporting from the divisional and regional/department level to oversee compliance and to identify trends and strategically manage the property management function
  • develop and update policies and procedures
  • develop and disseminate comprehensive training
  • enforce stocktake audit requirements and monitor the outcomes
  • monitor organisational risks, such as OHS risks
  • manage the property management system, ensuring it is fit for purpose and upholds data integrity
  • prioritise and oversee improvement projects.
Policies, procedures and training

The property officer is responsible for day-to-day property functions, including lodging received property, updating databases, and organising disposal once approved.

The informant is the investigating police member. The informant is responsible for the property he or she has collected.

The officer in charge of each work unit is responsible for managing their members' property. For example, ensuring property collected is only that required for evidentiary purposes and that property is disposed within timelines.

Victoria Police does not have comprehensive policies and guidelines to underpin and support property management. The Victoria Police Manual (VPM) and local Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) do not provide comprehensive advice and guidance for the day-to-day management of this function. There are no other formal guidance documents or a central contact within Victoria Police for staff to seek clarification or support.

This, combined with a lack of formal property management training, has meant that property officers and police members have mainly relied on informal training opportunities. This has resulted in inconsistent practices for property management and some noncompliance with policy requirements. For example, there are large variations in the way property is recorded within PaLM that can make it difficult to analyse data. Also, a property officer from one of the eight stations we visited was not aware of the property store audit requirements, despite being in the role for over two years. Lack of auditing increases the risk that property may go missing or be recorded incorrectly.

Victoria Police released a new e-learning training course on property management in January 2018. The training provides a good foundation but does not currently address all training and skill gaps. To provide support for all police ranks and staff roles, the training requires additional modules, such as those for informants or the officers in charge, however resources and funding have not been committed to develop these.

Property management system

The PaLM IT system has many usability and functionality issues and does not support the business needs of Victoria Police. These issues create considerable additional work, which could be better spent on operational policing or on other aspects of managing property. Overall, the system's reputation among police members and property officers is not good, and it is seen as a barrier to discharging their property management obligations rather than an aid.

PaLM is slow, with lengthy, convoluted and non-intuitive processes for recording property. There are also limited data quality controls, such as mandatory fields, which would help drive consistency of recording.

Further, the reporting function is not fit for purpose and does not allow police to generate simple monitoring reports. However, of greater concern is that it does not produce reliable compliance reporting.

Victoria Police is in the process of developing a PaLM dashboard that will produce more valuable and effective business reports, with the aim of:

  • streamlining property destructions by holding stations and informants to account
  • providing more accurate compliance indicators.

This is a big step forward. However, as the data for the dashboard will be pulled from PaLM, underlying issues with the integrity of the data are still likely to result in inaccurate reporting.

Organisational monitoring and reporting

Property management compliance reports from PaLM do not provide an accurate view of compliance. This leads to several issues, including a lack of understanding of the actual performance of the property management function at a station level. It also means officers in charge need to manually review every reported compliance issue each month, which is time consuming and competes with operational policing demands.

There is a strong focus on compliance at a station level, however this can be counterproductive as the compliance reports do not provide valuable information. Compliance is displayed using a traffic light system and police members advised us that management 'doesn't want to see red', which indicates noncompliance. This has led to staff manipulating the gauges to correct the PaLM data to show greater compliance. However, a 'green' rating on the compliance report may provide false comfort if the compliance model itself is not accurate.

A brief of evidence (brief) is a compilation of all documents relevant to the prosecution of a case.

Briefs are assigned a number, the brief book number, which should be linked to the PaLM record for property items that have evidentiary value in that case.

The focus on achieving compliance, coupled with existing system limitations in how property can be recorded, has created conditions that prompt police members to use workarounds. For example, one noncompliance category is when items are in possession for three months or more without a brief book number. While there are legitimate instances where this can occur, such as when there has been no offender or suspect identified, PaLM does not have the ability to identify these items and take them off the noncompliance list. Therefore, some officers insert 'dummy' brief book numbers so that they are not inappropriately flagged as compliance issues. While members use this workaround because of frustration with the system, tolerating a culture where members may feel free to alter or inaccurately record details for a variety of reasons weakens the control framework. This is especially concerning for a law enforcement agency.

Above the station level, there are no clear lines of accountability and reporting through the divisional or regional levels to a central point within the organisation. This limits Victoria Police's ability to understand the performance of its property management function across the organisation and for it to identify any organisation-wide matters that it needs to improve.

Failure to effectively manage property exposes individuals to multiple OHS risks—for example, handling dangerous items or hazardous materials such as cannabis, other drugs or firearms and weapons. While Victoria Police has systems to identify and manage individual OHS risks and associated claims, it cannot readily identify the volume or trends of OHS claims specifically caused by activities related to property management . The lack of organisation-wide monitoring limits Victoria Police's ability to identify any common and systemic risks to staff and to act accordingly to mitigate them.

Victoria Police's practices for auditing property stores also vary, with most stations and storage locations not fulfilling the required four full audits a year. Our data analysis showed that four locations had not audited any of their property items in 2017, and a further 12 locations had only audited between 1 and 5 per cent of their items in 2017. There is no organisational oversight to hold work units to account for not following up audit issues or for not completing the required property store audits. This increases the risk that Victoria Police does not have an accurate record of property holdings and that inappropriate handling or treatment of property and exhibits is not detected.

Seizure, storage and disposal of property

Test of essentiality and use of secondary evidence

The test of essentiality means that items should be retained only if required for evidentiary purposes and if secondary evidence cannot be used.

Secondary evidence is a copy, replica or substitute for primary evidence. For example, a photocopy, photo or video recording.

The test of essentiality seeks to prevent police members from seizing unnecessary exhibits and to encourage the use of secondary evidence where possible. Robust application of the test of essentiality to property management will reduce property holdings and potentially minimise other risks, such as manual-handling injuries. However, completion of the test is not documented, meaning there is no way to know whether the test is consistently applied when seizing property.

Victoria Police is also not making best use of secondary evidence to achieve storage and process efficiencies. While there are serious constraints on the use of secondary evidence, incremental improvements are possible.

For example, police officers, particularly investigators, described a strong disposition to err on the side of collecting and retaining physical items, as it is hard for them to judge at the time of initial seizure whether items will be significant to a case. While this is understandable, it highlights the importance of periodic reviews of the evidentiary value of property.

Another constraint is that the failure to produce primary evidence or make it available to the defence could result in a miscarriage of justice. While secondary evidence can create efficiencies, agreement will need to be sought with the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) and Victoria Police Prosecutions about when and how secondary evidence is used for exhibits relating to serious crimes. Nevertheless, there is opportunity to maximise the use of secondary evidence for low-risk property types, such as car registration plates.

Storage

Victoria Police must retain exhibits from unsolved serious crimes for a minimum of 50 years—but it does not know how many items in its possession are subject to this rule. This creates a risk that Victoria Police is not storing items correctly to maintain their evidentiary value and that it will not be able to strategically forecast capacity requirements for these items in the future.

We identified significant gaps in Victoria Police's handling and storage of all property types. Policies and procedures do not set clear standards to ensure that all items are stored safely and securely and protected from contamination or degradation. We observed risks to the integrity of property, such as high temperatures or leaking roofs, in some property stores.

Victoria Police is attempting to address gaps in its policies and processes by establishing storage requirements through several PEMRP projects and through updates to the VPM. These confirm some minimum standards for storage facilities and define 'serious unsolved crime'. However, significant gaps remain, such as not requiring the creation of secondary evidence for all items moved to long-term storage and not assessing locations against known risks that may impact property's evidentiary value.

Disposal

The efficient and timely disposal of property is the responsibility of the informant managing the property. However, time pressure and process inefficiencies often prevent informants from actively managing the property they have collected, resulting in disposal being delayed indefinitely or overlooked altogether.

For property and exhibits already in storage, there is no programmed review to reapply the test of essentiality—including property currently in possession related to long-term serious unsolved crimes. Therefore, Victoria Police cannot be confident that the number of property items is being kept to a minimum and that they are retained based on their evidentiary value.

In a recent and successful pilot approach, secondary evidence allowed Victoria Police to destroy over 40 000 cannabis plants weighing over 18 tonnes—which is more than six times what could be destroyed during a similar period using a traditional approach. In addition to creating storage efficiencies, this also significantly reduced OHS risks related to this property. The pilot approach was recently approved to become business as usual.

Transport and Logistics Centre

Victoria Police has developed a proposal for the construction of a Transport and Logistics Centre (TALC). TALC would be a fit-for-purpose central warehouse with access to facilities and technologies to improve the management of records, equipment and property. Victoria Police forecasts that TALC would return a surplus to the state, due to revenue from the sale of existing sites, and benefit the organisation through minimising the time police spend transporting property. The TALC proposal has not yet been funded, and Victoria Police's Operational Infrastructure Department does not currently have plans to implement the identified transport efficiencies outside of the TALC concept.

Recommendations

We recommend that Victoria Police:

1. define the expectations and responsibilities of a property capability owner to ensure that the property management function aligns with the strategic direction of the organisation, including:

  • monitoring coordinated reporting from the divisional and regional/department levels to oversee compliance, identify trends and strategically manage the property management function
  • developing and disseminating comprehensive training for police members and property officers and continuing to implement the community of practice for property officers
  • developing and updating policies and procedures
  • ensuring the integrity of data captured in PaLM
  • prioritising and overseeing improvement projects
  • ensuring adequate conditions for warehousing and infrastructure (see Part 2)

2. develop an end-to-end property management handbook (see Section 2.2)

3. encourage all existing and new staff with operational or administrative property responsibilities to undertake the property management e-learning training (see Section 2.3)

4. improve or replace the current property management IT system so that it is fit for purpose in supporting frontline staff and reporting requirements (see Sections 2.4 and 2.5)

5. implement a standardised stocktake audit schedule that is based on the level of assurance that Victoria Police requires for effective property management and:

  • ensures baseline safety and OHS requirements are met
  • ensures the evidentiary value of property and exhibits is maintained
  • ensures risks associated with ageing infrastructure are identified and addressed
  • is adequately supported with audit tools and technology
  • improves assurance processes through the enforcement and monitoring of stocktake audit outcomes (see Sections 2.6 and 3.3)

6. consult with Victoria Police Prosecutions, the Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre and the Office of Public Prosecutions to identify and assess opportunities to increase the use of secondary evidence (see Section 3.2)

7. assess how much property related to unsolved serious crimes is currently in police possession and forecast future storage capacity and packaging needs for all items that fall under the 50-year retention rule (see Section 3.3)

8. consider alternative methods to implement the potential efficiencies for property transportation, identified through the TALC proposal (see Section 3.5).

Responses to recommendations

We have consulted with Victoria Police throughout the audit and we considered its views when reaching our audit conclusions. As required by section 16(3) of the Audit Act 1994, we gave a draft copy of this report to Victoria Police and asked for its submissions or comments. We also provided a copy of the report to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The following is a summary of Victoria Police's response. The full response is included in Appendix A.

Victoria Police accepted seven recommendations in full, noting they have resourcing and investment implications, and one recommendation in principle. Victoria Police has provided an action plan that addresses all recommendations.

In its response, Victoria Police noted that while some processes can be improved, they have longstanding policies and guidelines that have supported numerous investigations and judicial proceedings.

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1 Audit Context

1.1 Property and exhibits

Property classes

Victoria Police collects a vast range of property in the course of its duties. Managing this property is an integral part of policing and a critical part of successful prosecutions to maintain community safety.

Property includes all lost and found, created, surrendered and/or seized property that comes into police possession. The property's class is determined by how the item has come into police possession. An exhibit is any property in police possession that may be used in court as evidence.

Figure 1A defines the four property classes.

Figure 1A
The four property classes

Figure 1A defines the four property classes.

Source: VAGO based on information provided by Victoria Police.

In this audit, we focus on the collection, management and disposal of seized property and exhibits. Of the property currently in police possession, seized property accounts for the largest amount (78 per cent), followed by created property (14 per cent), as shown in Figure 1B.

Figure 1B
Percentage of property in police possession by class

Figure1B shows the percentage of property in police possession by class

Source: VAGO based on PaLM data, extracted 20 June 2018.

Buccal swabs are a relatively non-invasive way of collecting a DNA sample, by swabbing the cells on the inside of a person's cheek.

Types of seized property

Within each property class, there are broad categories or types of items such as drugs, firearms, forensic property—DNA samples (such as buccal swabs) and fingerprints—weapons, money, vehicles and general lost property.

Figure 1C shows the top 10 categories for the seized property class in police possession.

Figure 1C
Top 10 categories of seized property currently in police possession

Figure 1C shows the top 10 categories for the seized property class in police possession.

Source: VAGO based on PaLM data, extracted 20 June 2018.

Legislative and policy framework

Legislation

The legal framework for the management of property is complex and requires an understanding of, and ability to apply, at least 19 different Acts of Parliament, including the Crimes Act 1958 and the Criminal Procedure Act 2009.

The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 confirms a person's right to property, requiring that a person must not be unlawfully deprived of his or her property.

Victoria Police does not have unilateral rights to items seized under a search or arrest warrant. The Magistrates' Court Act 1989 requires Victoria Police to present these items to court for viewing where the presiding magistrate may impose specific instructions for how the items may be used, retained or disposed of. These requirements can create limitations and requirements for police before an item can be forensically examined or used for investigations.

The Evidence Act 2008 stipulates that only relevant evidence is admissible in court. The use of primary or real evidence during court proceedings is an integral aspect of criminal proceedings.

Administrative policy and procedures
Victoria Police Manual

Section 60 of the Victoria Police Act 2013 gives the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police authority to issue the VPM. The VPM provides rules, procedures and guidance to assist Victoria Police in meeting its obligations. It also sets out the behavioural, operational and administrative standards for Victoria Police. It applies to employees of all ranks and employment types.

The VPM documents the process for managing property and exhibits. The manual incorporates legislative requirements and outlines:

  • roles and responsibilities
  • processes for storing, handling and managing property
  • methods and time frames for disposal of property.
Workplace Inspection Manual

The Workplace Inspection Manual (WIM) provides guidance on requirements for workplace inspections, audits and verification inspections within Victoria Police. The manual combines VPM requirements with what Victoria Police consider to be better practice. The WIM outlines monthly property reporting against five compliance measures. It also requires that each property store conducts four full stocktake audits a year—two conducted by the workplace officer in charge and two by an inspector or above from another station. The reporting requirements and the audit requirements are discussed in Part 2 of this report.

Standard Operating Procedures

Individual police stations and specialist units have local SOPs. SOPs supplement the VPM with more detailed guidance on property management specific to that police station or storage facility.

Property management process—seized items

The process for property management varies depending on the property class. Figure 1D outlines the property management cycle for seized property items.

Figure 1D
Overview of the Victoria Police process for managing seized property

Figure 1D outlines the property management cycle for seized property items.

Source: VAGO based on information provided by Victoria Police.

Test of essentiality

Before seizing any property, the VPM requires police officers to apply the test of essentiality. This test has multiple steps, requiring police to assess whether the property item has evidentiary or investigative value, or whether secondary evidence can be used in its place. The informant must:

  • assess whether the property is lawful, whether it is necessary to seize it and whether the use of secondary evidence is possible or appropriate
  • assess whether the property requires forensic testing, for example, fingerprinting
  • obtain a supervising police officer's approval in PaLM, which acts as confirmation that the item is essential and has evidentiary value
  • following forensic analysis (if applicable), determine whether the item is still required for investigative purposes.

Victoria Police has revised the test of essentiality in its draft VPM updates. The draft amendments make the test clearer and simpler but do not change the intention. We discuss the test of essentiality further in Section 3.2.

Secondary evidence

It is not always necessary to seize and retain an original item—in some instances, police may be able to use secondary evidence. Secondary evidence may be a copy, replica or substitute for primary evidence. It includes, but is not limited to, photographs, audiovisual recordings, plans, inventory of equipment, and statements relating to property. The manager of the work unit is responsible for using secondary evidence provisions wherever possible.

The VPM sets out the following guidelines:

  • All original documents must be retained.
  • All original property with significant value must be retained—for example, clothing with blood stains.
  • A statement of secondary evidence should be compiled to prove the continuity of evidence.
Storage and handling

Police members must package and store property appropriately to maintain its condition at the time of seizure and to preserve its evidentiary value.

Property may be produced in court as an exhibit or moved to other police stations, central storage locations or facilities for analysis (such as forensic testing).

Continuity of evidence, or chain of custody, describes how police are accountable for the integrity of an exhibit. Proving continuous possession throughout collection, storage and disposal of property is important for preserving the integrity of exhibits used in prosecutions.

All movements must be recorded, which forms the continuity of evidence or chain of custody. Victoria Police stores property at over 200 storage locations, including:

  • police stations across the state
  • other property storage locations, such as:
    • the Vehicle Impoundment Support Unit, which stores evidentiary and impounded vehicles
    • a large central storage facility, which stores overflow evidence from Crime Command and from other criminal prosecutions managed by specialist units across the state, along with high-risk items and exhibits related to unsolved serious crimes
  • the Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre, which performs various forensic tests on exhibits such as fingerprint, DNA and drug analysis.
Recording and the property management system

Police members must record all new property accurately by the end of their shift. Records should include a description, a storage location and, in the case of seized property, an indication that the test of essentiality has been completed.

In late 2011, Victoria Police began rolling out PaLM to deliver a single statewide system to record and manage property items. PaLM was not operational across the entire organisation until 2014. PaLM is an off-the-shelf web-based application that was initially designed as a forensic laboratory management system. PaLM was customised by the vendor to include Victoria Police's requirements for a property management module.

PaLM records the description and life cycle of property, from when it is received into the possession of Victoria Police, any movement and approval transactions, and any forensic analysis performed on it (where applicable), through to the nature and circumstances surrounding its disposal. It also facilitates and displays electronic approvals, date stamps and some investigation details.

By recording all property movements and storage locations, PaLM was intended to:

  • provide an organisation-wide view of property holdings
  • facilitate analysis and reporting
  • strengthen the continuity of evidence.

Prior to PaLM, property entries were recorded using several manual and computer-based systems. The majority of stations recorded their property in hardcopy property books. Police members attached court orders and official documents to the relevant entry in the property books. The information from the property books was then regularly transferred into a standalone database called Station Books. This limited police's ability to search for property at other stations or to have an organisational view of all property holdings.

Disposal

In general, Victoria Police disposes of seized property by:

  • returning it to the owner when it is no longer required
  • returning it to the owner as a result of a court order
  • destroying it as a result of a court-ordered forfeiture
  • selling it by auction as a result of a court-ordered forfeiture.

Property must be disposed of at the earliest opportunity by the appropriate method. Seized property may be disposed of when the informant considers it no longer of value to an investigation. If seized property is subject to a court order, it cannot be disposed of until a 30-day appeal period has ended.

Some property and exhibits are required to be held in long-term storage—for example, where the property was seized in relation to a serious crime and no person has been charged with the offence.

1.2 Roles and responsibilities

Figure 1E shows the spread of roles and responsibilities related to property management across the organisation. Most areas within Victoria Police have touchpoints with, and some responsibility for, property management.

Figure 1E
Property management roles and responsibilities

Executive Command

Region/department/Command

Divisional Command

Property management role

Regional Operations

North West Metro, Southern Metro, Western and Eastern Regions

Divisions/PSA/Police Station:

  • Uniform police
  • Specialist units

The relevant investigating officers collect and authorise disposal of property—property officers store and dispose of property

Regional Audit and Risk Unit

Audits compliance against WIM

Specialist Operations

Crime Command

Specialist Divisions

The relevant investigating officers collect and authorise disposal of property—property officers store and dispose of property

Forensic Services Department

Lab Operations

Provide forensic science services, such as drug analysis and destruction, ballistics, fingerprint and DNA analysis

Capability

Capability Department

Policy and Legislation

Develops VPM and progresses legislative change

Organisational Performance

Development of dashboard

PEMRP

Property improvement project

Professional Standards Command

Risk Mitigation

Investigates complaints, breaches and misconduct

Intelligence

People Development Command

Learning Development and Standards

Training and professional development

Human Resources Command

Health, Safety and Deployment

Monitors OHS risks

Infrastructure

Operational Infrastructure Department

Operational Infrastructure

Property capability owner

Transport Services, Logistical Support, Property

Provides infrastructure, warehousing, transport and logistics services, including for property

Infrastructure and IT Services Department

Service Operations Office

PaLM user support

Source: VAGO based on information provided by Victoria Police.

Victoria Police divides the state into four regions—Eastern, North West Metro, Southern Metro, Western. Regions are made up of divisions—there are 21 divisions overall, with four to six per region. The divisions are further divided into police service areas—there are 54 police service areas overall, with two to four per division. There are over 200 police stations within the 54 police service areas.

A police station includes Uniform police members, who are general duties officers. It may also include specialist units, such as Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams, Crime Investigation Units, Divisional Response Units and Family Violence Investigation Units.

At each property storage location, a number of staff have property management responsibilities:

  • The informant (investigating police member from any police unit) is responsible for collecting property, applying the test of essentiality, entering the property into PaLM and arranging for the property's disposal when no longer required.
  • One or more property officers provide support and logistics management for property items. Property officers do this for each unit's property located at the station, including specialist units. Smaller stations may not have a property officer and may rely on neighbouring stations to manage their property.
  • Some stations also assign a sergeant as the property portfolio sergeant. This role works closely with the property officer and officer in charge on property reporting, property destructions and following up with informants when items require action.
  • The officer in charge of each work unit has overall responsibility for informants' property. This includes ensuring that property entered into PaLM by police members should be retained (in accordance with the test of essentiality), that it is described adequately, that disposal is arranged within time lines, and that the correct disposal method is authorised and used.

Each station's property office is resourced differently. Large stations may have multiple property officers, while smaller stations typically have one officer who may also undertake administrative duties. Usually the property officer role is undertaken by a public servant but, at some stations, the property officer role may be performed by police members.

1.3 Past reviews and recommendations

Several past reviews, both external and internal to Victoria Police, identified significant weaknesses in Victoria Police's management of property and exhibits.

A 2012 review from the then Office of Police Integrity found vulnerabilities and risks at all stages of property management. The Office of Police Integrity's 36 recommendations focused on:

  • policies and procedures
  • training
  • the use of secondary evidence
  • the management of forensic medical examination kits.

The 2014 Victoria Police Evaluation of Property Management (2014 evaluation) highlighted a number of inefficiencies and areas for improvement, including:

  • the allocation of resourcing
  • the use of disparate information and communications technology and management systems
  • inefficiencies in the management, movement and storage of property
  • decentralised governance arrangements and a number of overlapping policies and guidelines.

The 2014 evaluation made 81 recommendations that received support in principle from Victoria Police's executive team.

In 2017, an internal audit examined the end-to-end process for property management. It found inconsistencies and noncompliance in the way property was managed between storage locations and that Victoria Police does not have complete and accurate oversight of its property holdings. Management accepted the three recommendations and is currently actioning them.

Property and Exhibit Management Reform Program

Victoria Police commenced the PEMRP in 2015. The PEMRP aims to address the 81 recommendations from the 2014 evaluation and key weaknesses that were also identified in the 2017 internal audit.

PEMRP's 25 projects are grouped into six work packages. See Appendix B for further detail on the PEMRP projects and streams.

The PEMRP aims to:

  • improve property and exhibit storage, handling, transport and disposal to reduce Victoria Police exposure to OHS risks
  • reduce property and exhibit holdings and related resource costs
  • streamline the movement and life cycle management of property and exhibits
  • improve governance of property to address inconsistency in recording and to preserve the integrity of exhibits
  • improve practices and policies for property and exhibit management
  • support the capability of those who use property management systems and processes.

The PEMRP commenced in June 2015. However, after Victoria Police reassigned the resources dedicated to the PEMRP to other projects, it was put on hold, before recommencing in 2017.

The PEMRP was governed by a bi-monthly steering committee and involved property management stakeholders, subject-matter experts and the Victoria Police executive.

The PEMRP concluded in June 2018 and the executive program sponsor—Victoria Police's Deputy Commissioner, Capability—is currently acquitting the projects.

To date, the PEMRP has rolled out e-learning modules for property management, established a 'community of practice' for property officers, driven the drafting of updates to the VPM, progressed legislative reform, and initiated research into methods for destroying particular types of property, including drugs, digital devices, mobile phones and weapons.

1.4 Previous audits

Our 2013 audit Asset Confiscation Scheme examined confiscated assets, which are a type of seized property. We found that Victoria Police had policies and procedures to guide its activities around asset management and disposal.

However, a range of weaknesses in the policies and procedures, while not material, could lead to inconsistent approaches to managing and disposing of confiscated assets. Victoria Police accepted all 12 recommendations. We conducted a follow up of this audit in 2016 and found that Victoria Police had implemented nine of the recommendations and was still in the process of implementing the remaining three.

1.5 Why this audit is important

Good property and exhibit management is fundamental for Victoria Police to support the administration of justice and protect the community. Mismanaged property creates risks for Victoria Police, including:

  • adverse impacts on court outcomes
  • liability for missing or damaged property
  • arbitrarily depriving citizens of their property
  • misuse of sensitive or private information
  • OHS and workplace incidents
  • reputational damage.

This audit is therefore important in identifying opportunities for improvement in Victoria Police's property and exhibit management.

1.6 What this audit examined and how

The objective of this audit was to determine whether Victoria Police stores and secures property and exhibits effectively and efficiently.

We considered whether Victoria Police has a control framework for property management that supports high performance and whether it prioritises and sustains improvement projects. We also examined whether Victoria Police stores and secures property in a way that supports frontline staff, reduces associated risks such as OHS risks, and maintains evidentiary value.

In conducting the audit, we:

  • reviewed Victoria Police documentation
  • visited eight police stations across the four police regions, the central storage facilities, Crime Command and the Forensic Services Department
  • interviewed property officers, logistical staff and police members across the stations and storage facilities we visited—the majority of police members were general duties members, responsible for attending the station and patrolling the division
  • spoke to specialist units at some stations
  • spoke to regional audit teams, responsible for monitoring compliance with the WIM
  • spoke to staff at Victoria Police headquarters including from the Capability Department, the Organisational Performance Division, Professional Standards Command (PSC), Victoria Police Prosecutions, the PaLM application management team and the Operational Infrastructure Department
  • conducted meetings with the PEMRP team and observed steering committee meetings
  • obtained and analysed PaLM data to determine its integrity, to obtain an organisation-wide snapshot of property holdings, and to investigate key weaknesses and gaps in the property management process
  • conducted stocktake audits at four stations and two central storage facilities, where we tested the accuracy of a sample of 768 items recorded on PaLM.

The operational police members we spoke to ranged in rank from constables to inspectors. These interviews gave us insight into how Victoria Police policies, procedures and PaLM are used in practice. Many of the corporate staff we interviewed were also police members with diverse experience and expertise.

We conducted our audit in accordance with section 15 of the Audit Act 1994 and the Australian Auditing and Assurance Standards. The cost of this audit was $435 000.

1.7 Report structure

The remainder of this report is structured as follows:

  • Part 2 examines Victoria Police's property management control framework and the move to a single property capability owner
  • Part 3 examines the seizure, storage and disposal of property.

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2 Property management control framework

Victoria Police's day-to-day management of property and exhibits is devolved to individual stations and business units across the organisation. Therefore, an effectively implemented, organisation-wide control framework is essential for assuring executive management that:

  • staff understand their roles and responsibilities and comply with relevant legislative and internal policies and procedures
  • the organisation as a whole is actively managing and overseeing property and exhibits
  • key risk areas or trends can be identified, strategically planned for and addressed.

The control framework should clearly articulate expectations and internal accountabilities for the management of property and exhibits, along with key risks.

For Victoria Police to apply the framework consistently and rigorously across the entire organisation, it needs to establish clear responsibilities at the station, divisional, regional and executive levels. Corporate policies for property management need to clarify requirements, and staff need to receive adequate training and be provided with fit-for-purpose and reliable systems, to effectively fulfil their responsibilities.

The framework also requires mechanisms for coordinated monitoring and reporting by divisions or regions to executive management that enable effective organisational oversight and strategic management of the function.

In this part of the report, we assessed whether there are clear lines of accountability and organisational reporting, whether there are comprehensive policies, guidelines and training, and whether the property management system is fit for purpose for recording and monitoring property items.

2.1 Conclusion

Victoria Police's control framework has not been designed to deliver efficient or effective property management.

Weaknesses in all facets of the control framework undermine data integrity, create inefficiencies and reduce overall confidence in the system. Under current reporting processes, staff are intentionally recording some information incorrectly, albeit due to frustration with system limitations. Such behaviours, despite understandable intentions, should not be tolerated, especially in a law enforcement agency.

A tamper-evident audit bag is a purpose-designed single-use security bag with a seal that makes it obvious if it has been broken or tampered with. They preserve the integrity of an item and assist in preventing unauthorised tampering with evidence.

Of more concern is the risk that control weaknesses, system limitations and variable work practices could mask inappropriate behaviour and make it difficult to detect or prove. Opening tamper-evident audit bags (TEAB) as part of a stocktake, when this is not required and should not occur, is one example of such an exposure. The use of 'return to owner' (RTO) as a method to remove duplicate records on the system is another. Marking property as being returned to the owner—when it has not been—is a control weakness and could make inappropriate behaviour difficult to detect or prove.

Through the PEMRP, Victoria Police has made a concerted effort to address a range of issues affecting property and exhibit management, but some significant gaps remain:

  • Overall, there are no clear lines of accountability and reporting for the property management function to provide an organisation-wide view of property holdings, property management performance and emerging issues and trends.
  • Training and guidance is not always consistent across the organisation or available as needed, meaning that staff do not always understand their role, and variations exist in the way they record and manage property.
  • PaLM has usability and functionality issues that mean it does not appropriately support operational police or reporting requirements.
  • Audits of property stores are not well resourced or implemented. There is no organisational oversight to hold work units to account for following up the outcomes of audits. There are also no consequences if work units do not conduct audits as required.
  • Current reporting does not provide an accurate view of compliance for the property management function, as inherent data integrity issues impact results. The level of noncompliance is likely to be understated and reports probably provide a false sense of assurance that property is well managed.

Ultimately, a single point of accountability for the property and exhibits function is needed to drive consistent and rigorous application of a comprehensive control framework across the entire organisation.

2.2 Policies and procedures

Corporate policies and procedures must clarify expected requirements and are a key element in ensuring that staff understand their roles and responsibilities and comply with relevant requirements.

Victoria Police Manual

The VPM contains the property management policy and guidance for Victoria Police. While it is useful in providing general policy and guidelines, overall, it does not provide a comprehensive practice guide to resolve the many practical issues faced in the day-to-day management of property and exhibits.

The VPM is difficult to navigate, requiring property officers and police members to search across multiple documents, some of which contain duplicated information. Further, until recently, the VPM had not been updated since 2014–15 and was missing some essential practical information—for example, as at 30 June 2018, the VPM still referenced Station Books instead of PaLM.

Through the PEMRP, Victoria Police considered a number of draft changes to the VPM, submitted during 2017 and 2018. The draft updates are yet to be finalised.

Standard Operating Procedures

SOPs—which are usually station-specific and approved by the officer in charge—do not generally provide sufficient detail to manage property effectively. We reviewed 10 property management SOPs from police stations and property offices and found that they varied in their level of detail:

  • SOPs are brief—the shortest SOP stated that property should be dealt with in accordance with the VPM, be recorded in PaLM and be stored in the property office, and that handling and disposal of property must be in accordance with court instructions.
  • SOPs selectively include some aspects of property management, without providing detail on others.
  • One of the SOPs restated information from the VPM without any further detail.
  • Some stations do not have SOPs—one station could not locate its SOP and another did not have one and instead relied solely on the VPM.

Another issue was that SOPs generally do not include a published or 'last reviewed' date, so we could not assess when they were last updated.

Better practice SOPs that we reviewed:

  • differentiate between the roles and responsibilities of the property office and those of the informants
  • include templates and links to applicable forms
  • explain the test of essentiality in easy-to-understand language and emphasise the use of secondary evidence
  • include screenshots and additional guidance to demonstrate processes that are difficult or often done incorrectly.
The need for a property management handbook

The 2014 evaluation recognised the need for an organisationally-endorsed property management handbook to drive consistency and improve knowledge across the organisation. However, this project was out of scope of the PEMRP, and responsibility was reassigned to the Policy and Legislation Division as part of the 2016–17 VPM refresh, which did not eventuate.

The VPM and SOPs do not provide property officers and police members with comprehensive advice and guidance to resolve practical issues with managing property and exhibits, so there is still a need for an organisation‑wide property handbook.

The case study in Figure 2A shows the need for clear and consistent guidance on storing seized property—in this case, mobile phones.

Figure 2A
Case study: VPM guidance on storage standards for mobile phones

Appropriate storage of mobile phones preserves the integrity of the data contained within the phone. This is particularly important for seized mobile phones requiring forensic analysis.

During the audit, we were consistently told by officers and the eCrime department (responsible for forensic extraction and analysis of mobiles) that mobile phones are required to be stored with the SIM card removed or with the device set to flight mode. This is to help preserve the evidence contained within them.

Several property officers we spoke to were not aware of the risk to evidence if SIM cards are not removed or if devices are not set to flight mode. We also confirmed with Corporate Policy (the owner of the VPM) that the requirement to store mobile devices in this way is not documented, nor is it included in the June 2018 draft amendments to the VPM. This lack of clearly documented guidance could impact investigations.

We came across 25 mobile phones during our stocktake audit (see Section 2.6) and found that only nine had the SIM card removed, or a note to show that the device had been set to flight mode.

Better documenting expected requirements is key in ensuring that staff will consistently handle mobile phones in a way that will maintain their evidentiary value.

Source: VAGO.

2.3 Support and training

Training and support is another way to ensure staff understand their roles and responsibilities and comply with relevant legislative and internal policies and procedures.

The absence of proper training increases the risk of incorrect or inconsistent practice and may increase the risk of inappropriate behaviours. Untrained property management personnel may also be subject to OHS risks, especially when handling potentially dangerous goods.

Induction training and ongoing support for property officers

Process training

Until recently, there was no formal induction or training process for new property officers. Property officers report that they have been mainly learning on the job, through handovers with the previous officer (if available) and from the station's property portfolio sergeant, the officer in charge or, most frequently, from other property officers, either in the station or at nearby stations.

This has resulted in inconsistent practices for property management and noncompliance with policy requirements. For example, from the eight stations we visited, one property officer was not aware of the audit requirements for storing property despite having been in the job for over two years. Some property officers reported opening TEABs when conducting audits to inspect and verify the contents. This practice risks contaminating the evidence and compromising the chain of custody.

Both the 2014 evaluation and the 2017 internal audit identified the lack of property management training and inconsistent practices. The 2017 internal audit recommended that Victoria Police evaluate the current capability and capacity of property officers and managers to comply with the property management process. Victoria Police has not yet implemented this recommendation.

The PEMRP undertook a formal training needs analysis, which identified gaps in members' technical and soft skills. It also noted weaknesses such as a lack of succession planning for property officers or training for relief staff.

Support networks

During our site visits, the lack of official organisational support was a common issue raised by property officers.

Property officers report directly to the officer in charge at their station or storage facility. Their ability to access support and training outside of their station and immediate network is limited.

We asked about the number of current property officers, but Victoria Police was unable to give us an up-to-date list. The list we were given was from 2013 and did not differentiate between property officers and administration staff. Not knowing the number of property officers or the number of police members who work in this capacity highlights not only the need for succession planning, but also underscores the considerable underinvestment in the property officer role from an organisational perspective.

A PEMRP project to create a 'community of practice' forum has recently established a network for property officers. The project brings together property officers to support the development of property management skills and capability, and to share better practice. Through the PEMRP, Victoria Police has hosted five forums, reaching over 120 property officers.

The forums were held across five metropolitan and regional locations. They provided opportunities for other divisions and teams to present to and engage with property officers. This included the Forensic Services Department, Asset Disposal, OHS branch and firearms officers.

The Operational Infrastructure Department took over the management of the community of practice in July 2018. The continuation of the forums will depend on handover arrangements and active management in the future. The community of practice will provide a forum through which the Operational Infrastructure Department can communicate with, or disseminate information directly to, property officers across the organisation. There are currently no other direct links between property officers and this department.

Property management and PaLM system training for police members

As for property officers, there is inadequate property management or PaLM system training for police members. This is partly driven by the fact that there is no single area responsible for PaLM—much like the property and exhibit function as a whole.

Training for new police recruits

The Victoria Police Academy is the training school for new police recruits. Training includes academic study as well as physical training and operational skills.

The only formal training for property management is provided at the Victoria Police Academy. New recruits only receive limited training on property and exhibits and the use of PaLM.

While we did not specifically assess training at the Victoria Police Academy as part of this audit, police members at five of the eight stations we visited—including some recent recruits—noted that they receive one session on property management and PaLM, which is very high level, lasting one to two hours at most.

Police members reported that training did not properly cover how to manage property throughout the whole property life cycle or how to manage different high-risk property types, nor did it provide them with enough technical ability to effectively use PaLM.

Training for existing staff

There is no ongoing property management training available for existing police members.

PaLM system training was delivered when PaLM was implemented in 2014, but it has now ceased. Police members consulted during the audit consistently reported that training availability at the time of the rollout was limited, meaning that not all staff undertook the training. They also noted the ongoing lack of comprehensive support for people who currently use the system.

Further, those who did take the training consistently described it as inadequate. The 2014 evaluation found that:

  • the initial PaLM training was not adequately evaluated, therefore Victoria Police cannot determine whether it was effective
  • as there was no evaluation, there were no lessons learned
  • a PaLM user issues log was not kept, which was a missed opportunity to identify users' training needs.

While there is no formal training, there are multiple PaLM user guides available to staff. These guides were last updated in 2012 and are bundled into packages, specifically targeted to general users, property officers and approvers. The user guides are references for how to use the system. They include screenshots to explain common processes and are sufficient to assist users in navigating PaLM, however these guides do not include any policy or legislative requirements. They do not replace the need for comprehensive PaLM training.

Informal training

In lieu of organisation-wide training, some stations have created their own training, however this is not endorsed at an organisational level and relies on the member who develops the training having correct knowledge about property management. As the property officers themselves do not receive formal property and PaLM training, Victoria Police cannot guarantee that staff are receiving consistent messages about property management.

The way forward—property management e-learning

In January 2018, subject-matter experts across the organisation launched an e-learning property management portal via the PEMRP, which included training modules on:

  • property officer essentials, including:
    • an animated overview of the role of the property officer
    • a PaLM simulation
    • property classification
    • property scenarios
  • dangerous and hazardous materials awareness
  • health, safety and wellbeing
  • handling of hazardous material
  • minimising contamination of DNA and forensics.

The e-learning portal is a significant improvement and delivers training on the technical skills involved in property management and key policy requirements. However, it is not mandatory—by June 2018, 225 police members and property officers had completed the training. Victoria Police should ensure that all new and incumbent property officers complete the training, as well as all new police recruits.

Further, Victoria Police has identified that it needs additional modules, such as for informants and officers in charge, to provide support for all ranks and roles. However, it has not committed resources and funding for this to happen.

Overall, the available training does not address all training and skill gaps identified by Victoria Police's training needs analysis. Staff would benefit from more regular and consistent PaLM training as well as from property officer succession planning.

To date, there are no plans to address these gaps or to evaluate the training to assess its effectiveness. The lack of a single accountable owner to drive functional change in property management has stalled progress.

2.4 Property management system

A good property management system can facilitate efficient and effective property management by accurately recording, monitoring and reporting property items.

Functionality

User perspectives

During our audit, we spoke to operational police across eight stations and the central property stores. They made some positive comments about PaLM:

  • The ability to search for lost property across stations is useful.
  • PaLM is a better system than the old property books for demonstrating the continuous chain of custody.
  • The system is fine—staff just do not know how to use it. Organisationally, Victoria Police does not fully understand what it is capable of.
  • It is valuable to have time and date stamps, and the ability to write comments.
  • Notices and reminders are flagged for police members/informants.

However, despite these positive comments mentioned during our field visits and consultations across the organisation, we heard common and repeated complaints about PaLM's usability. We perceived that overall, the system does not have a good reputation among police members and property officers, and it is seen as a barrier to property management obligations rather than an aid.

Persistent criticisms of the system included that it is very slow and 'clunky', and that it will often crash or stop working. Processes for recording property are lengthy and convoluted, owing to the slow system, multiple screens and non‑intuitive nature of the program. There are at least 14 screens for recording items, some of which have multiple tabs, and users must switch between screens and tabs regularly. In contrast, Station Books only had one screen for recording property.

Further, there are few mandatory fields or in-built controls in PaLM to ensure data is recorded consistently, such as drop-down menus, which means that there is wide variation in data input.

Some important recording errors, such as when an item has been incorrectly marked as 'disposed of', cannot be easily fixed. For example, an item's classification cannot be changed from 'found' to 'seized' without closing the relevant file and creating a new one.

A commonly cited frustration was that documents uploaded to the system, such as court orders and destruction approvals, cannot be viewed. This leads to a double handling of documents, which must also be filed and saved elsewhere.

Although PaLM easily links to brief book entries within Station Books, it does not link to any other databases, applications or systems, making it difficult to identify property that is ready for destruction. PaLM's reporting function does not provide a whole-of-organisation view or allow for customised reports.

Our findings are consistent with those of Victoria Police's 2014 evaluation and 2017 internal audit.

Data integrity

Information architecture

Like other aspects of property management, there is no one area charged with governance of PaLM data, including accountability for the completeness and accuracy of the data. Accordingly, Victoria Police has limited knowledge about the structure of data within PaLM.

We requested a PaLM data dictionary and schema to understand what data the system holds. These documents describe the contents, format and structure of a database and the relationship between its elements. However, Victoria Police could not provide a data dictionary or schema because they do not exist.

Only one Victoria Police staff member, who is attached to the PaLM application team, has detailed knowledge about the information contained within most of the data fields. However, while this employee was helpful and able to answer some questions, they could not always provide clear information about all the data fields or processes for how PaLM produces its automated performance and compliance reporting, which we discuss below.

The lack of comprehensive, documented information about what data exists within PaLM is a risk to Victoria Police's knowledge management, as it creates a single point of failure if this employee should leave the organisation. It also does not allow Victoria Police to fully leverage the dataset that it has collected.

Common data input issues

The historical inadequacies in PaLM training and guidance, coupled with the lack of in-built controls within the system, have resulted in errors and inconsistencies in the way property is recorded within PaLM. Common reported issues include:

  • the wrong property class (seized, found, surrendered, created) being entered
  • inconsistencies in whether multiple property items are recorded separately in multiple files, or together in one file
  • varying levels of detail in descriptions—some staff enter more details than others or enter them in different fields
  • items not being put in a TEAB, or the number of the TEAB not being recorded in PaLM
  • court date and brief book number not being linked, where available.

Overall, these issues affect the quality and usability of PaLM data, and the ability to monitor items for compliance. They also impact Victoria Police's ability to dispose of items in accordance with minimum holding thresholds.

Data quality tests

We assessed the completeness and accuracy of PaLM data by checking whether the data falls within acceptable and consistent date ranges and category fields. The results of our testing showed:

Active items are still in police possession and not marked as disposed of, returned or approved for disposal.

  • missing dates—462106 seized items that had been disposed of did not have an approval date recorded for their disposal, and 116542 active seized items did not have a receipt date recorded
  • illogical date sequencing, where the processes appear to occur out of order—11998 property items appeared to have a court date before they had been seized, and 715 items had an actual disposal date before the disposal approval date
  • invalid dates—for example, a mobile phone that was seized in the 1930s when this technology was not available
  • zero days in police possession—10 633 items appear to have been seized and disposed of at the same date and time
  • negative days in police possession—111 items appear to have been disposed of before they were seized
  • incongruous disposal methods—green vegetable matter (GVM), which is cannabis, recorded as having been 'returned to owner'
  • the wrong property class—for example, property located at a crime scene recorded as 'found' property rather than 'seized' (these items would have been seized under warrant or legislation)
  • the wrong property category being used—for example, mobile phones entered into the GVM category
  • the 'other/unknown' category being used where another category should have been—for example, mobile phones, clothing or DNA being categorised as 'other/unknown', along with letters or items (incorrectly) bundled together such as a 'sealed bag of exhibits'.

Victoria Police attributes issues relating to missing, incorrect or illogical dates to data migration errors, from when data was transferred from legacy systems to PaLM over the course of several large migration runs. While Victoria Police reports performing some data validation checks before and after the data migration, no automated data cleansing processes were completed prior to the migration.

Victoria Police attributes other errors, such as the mis-classification of items, mis-categorisation of items or inaccurate item descriptions to human error and data entry mistakes.

Use of the 'return to owner' function

Approval by a supervising police officer is not required when police return property to the owner. The RTO function can be used in appropriate circumstances, but it may also be used to 'close off' duplicate files in PaLM, which were caused by data migration. This allows for police members to close a duplicate file without seeking approval from a senior sergeant or sergeant through the general process.

Victoria Police reports that it uses the RTO function in this way for duplicate files. While it is difficult to verify all instances of this, we found 1 178 instances of GVM being marked as RTO where the disposal comments state the RTO method was used to close duplicate files.

Using the RTO function in this way is a control weakness. It could make inappropriate behaviour difficult to detect or prove.

Compliance reporting

PaLM presents performance information as 'gauges' (or dials), which allow users to quickly identify risks and issues. This reporting is automatically generated from the data within PaLM. The gauges show items that are both noncompliant or 'at risk' of being noncompliant with specific time frames—the items that are flagged as 'at risk' require action or they may become compliance issues. Figure 2B shows the breakdown.

Figure 2B
Risk and noncompliance categories for PaLM reporting

Category

File type

Description

Risk

 

1

Found property

Created/in possession for 3–4 months

2

Seized property

Court date passed by between 28 and 60 days

3

Seized property

Created/in possession for 2–3 months with no brief book number

4

Seized property

No activity for 1–2 months

Noncompliance

 

1

Found Property

Created/in possession over 4 months

2

Seized property

Court date passed by over 60 days

3

Seized property

Created/in possession for over 3 months with no brief book number

4

Seized property

No activity for over 2 months

Source: VAGO based on information provided by Victoria Police.

The compliance categories are based on legislative time frames and best practice. For found property, legislation requires police to hold the property for a minimum of three months before it can be disposed of. The compliance requirements for seized property are an amalgamation of current practice and what Victoria Police considers best practice.

A gauge for each risk and compliance category—an example is shown in Figure 2C—shows the extent to which files within the category comply with the required standard. The results are presented as a percentage score for the category using a traffic light system—see Figure 2D. There is also a gauge for overall compliance.

Figure 2C
Example of a PaLM compliance gauge

Figure2C shows an example of a PaLM compliance gauge

Source: Victoria Police.

Figure 2D
Compliance ratings

Unsatisfactory

less than 80%

Close to standard

between 80% and 95%

Satisfactory

more than 95%

Source: VAGO based on information provided by Victoria Police.

Issues affecting the accuracy of gauges and compliance scores

Due to various factors, the PaLM risk and compliance gauges do not accurately reflect actual performance.

Data quality issues

As noted earlier, some PaLM files contain incorrect or illogical dates, and these issues with data quality affect the accuracy of the gauge reporting, as dates are automatically drawn from PaLM.

Further, the 2017 internal audit noted that the migration of property data from the legacy systems to PaLM resulted in multiple duplicate entries and instances where property files which were previously recorded as 'disposed of' have been reopened as active files on PaLM. It is difficult to identify duplicates in the data as they received unique item numbers in the migration.

Business rules for the gauges

The gauges only pick up items that are classed as 'seized' and 'found'. This means that there is no monitoring or reporting on 'created' and 'surrendered' property classes in police possession—currently around 16 per cent of all property.

When entering property into PaLM, police members create a property file that relates to the relevant investigation. Each property item is then listed under that file. A property file can hold up to 9 999 items and each item can fall under its own category.

The gauges measure and report on property files, as opposed to property items. However, they count all items within an active property file, even if some of those items have been disposed of. This inflates the number of reported property items in the gauges and is inconsistent with the 'all active items' property report that work units can generate from PaLM.

The gauges are unable to differentiate between valid and invalid compliance issues. For example, exhibits that legitimately do not have a brief book number, because there is no known offender, get flagged under the third compliance category—'Seized property files: Created/in possession for over 3 months with no brief book number'.

Manipulating entries to increase compliance

The current compliance model is too focused on traffic light reporting that does not provide valuable information. Feedback from police members is that management 'doesn't want to see red' on the compliance gauges so they can feel assured that property is being managed well. However, a green gauge based on inaccurate data may provide false comfort.

The data within PaLM can be manipulated by users so that the gauges inflate the reported level of compliance—for example, the use of dummy brief book numbers so that the item will be flagged as compliant.

As mentioned above, there are items recorded in PaLM that legitimately do not have brief book numbers—for example, where police have not yet identified a suspect or an exhibit relates to a longer-term unsolved crime. At present, there is no way to remove these legitimate items from the monthly gauge reporting. This means that they consistently come up as noncompliant, requiring the work unit's officer in charge to review and explain their status every month. This is both time consuming and inefficient.

To work around this issue, some members input dummy brief book numbers so that these files are removed from the category 3 compliance gauge. These misrepresentations have occurred because PaLM is not set up to accurately reflect the nuances of property management—for example, with a check box to mark items that legitimately do not have brief book numbers and should be excluded from the gauges.

We analysed PaLM data to identify instances of false brief book numbers. We identified seven brief book numbers that appear to be false, attached to 2 053 property items. We identified these by the brief comments, however it is possible that there are further false brief books that are not easily identifiable. We confirmed that in five of the seven instances we identified, the station or unit was using a false brief book.

Use of a false brief book number removes files from the compliance categories, which improves the compliance score. As the gauges do not provide an accurate view of performance, they do not adequately assist officers in charge to easily manage and understand the true state of their work unit's property.

Every month, property officers and/or officers-in-charge must further interrogate the items that are showing as noncompliant to determine whether this rating is accurate. They then send targeted email prompts to individual informants requesting further information about items that are legitimately 'at risk'. This can be a time-consuming process, taking them away from their other duties such as operational policing.

PaLM's inability to produce other, customised business reports

PaLM has a very limited reporting function. The 2014 evaluation identified the lack of a suite of useful business reports as an issue and our conversations with police members during our audit reiterated this.

PaLM reports can show stock listings by storage location, but it is not easy to produce a statewide snapshot of:

  • different property cetegories—for example, mobile phones or cannabis
  • the number of items in each property category held at worksites
  • the average length of time that different categories of property are held.

Informants' efforts to manage their own property are also hindered because they cannot easily log in and obtain a listing of all the property items under their responsibility at all storage locations, with risks and required actions automatically highlighted.

Overall, the system limitations within PaLM have meant that Victoria Police cannot obtain an organisation-wide view of its property holdings.

The 2017 internal audit recommended that Victoria Police improve the use and functionality of its technology by:

  • improving its reporting capability to ensure it can produce a complete and accurate, organisation-wide view of property holdings for management, to improve oversight and control of property
  • considering any opportunities to simplify and standardise the queries used to generate reports at a worksite level to improve local visibility and oversight of property holdings.

Victoria Police is currently working on implementing the above recommendations from the 2017 internal audit.

The way forward—PaLM dashboard project

Due to escalating storage pressure across the state and the limitations in PaLM reporting, Victoria Police established a property dashboard project to give the organisation access to real‑time property performance indicators. The primary objectives of the property dashboard are to provide a more sophisticated business intelligence interface for PaLM data and to facilitate more systematic and timely disposal of seized property.

The dashboard uses PaLM data but represents the data in a separate analytics platform used across Victoria Police. Even though the project team is undertaking some data cleansing at major storage locations, any errors in the PaLM data will flow through to the dashboard.

The current version of the property dashboard has a clear focus on improving property management at police stations and major storage facilities across the state. The dashboard integrates agreed business rules to activate compliance flags and triggers. The dashboard will flag items that are noncompliant or at risk of not complying with management time lines, such as items that are disposed of but not closed in PaLM and items pending disposal for more than 60 days. The dashboard will present further data for these noncompliant items, which should more easily allow managers to fix the issues.

The dashboard will also allow stations and storage facilities to compare their compliance with that of other locations and view reports by informants or by item category. Further, the dashboard will better support regional management to oversee compliance, by facilitating views at a police service area, divisional, regional, command and department level.

The dashboard is in the late stages of development and will soon be tested with pilot groups.

2.5 Organisational monitoring of compliance

Mechanisms to enable stations, regional command and executive management to monitor property management allow organisational oversight and improve management of the property and exhibits function.

Monthly inspection reports

Officers in charge report monthly to their line manager on the status of their property items. These reports should contain:

  • overall compliance score based on the gauges
  • total number of active files and items
  • number of active files with noncompliant entries
  • number of items 'on issue' (these are items that are sent to another location, for example cash that has been banked)
  • cash on hand in the work unit
  • details of monthly inspections such as whether they were conducted and by whom.

It must also contain advice on the status of each item inspected and outline any remedial action police members should take and the time lines for this to occur.

The line manager must validate the information contained in the report and approve or reject the remedial action and proposed time lines.

Above this level, the reporting processes are unclear. A 2016 internal review of monthly inspection reports found that ownership and governance of station compliance has not been clearly defined and communicated across the organisation. It also found lack of clarity regarding who is responsible for monitoring and reporting on compliance across the state.

The way forward—improving organisational monitoring

Victoria Police has not progressed work to address recommendations from the 2016 internal review. Instead, it advised it will address the recommendations through two 2017–18 internal audits focusing on frontline compliance and business operations.

Any new reporting structure should support the organisation to actively manage and oversee property and exhibits. This includes having adequate organisation-wide monitoring that provides management with sufficient detail to identify key risk areas or trends that they can address through strategic planning.

2.6 Property store audits

Audits of property stores assess property-related practices and assure police management that key processes are being complied with.

Audit requirements

Since March 2016, the WIM has mandated that locations should perform four audits of 100 per cent of their property each year, with:

  • two full audits by the work unit manager/officer in charge
  • two full audits by an independent officer—usually an inspector or above from another station.

Prior to the publication of the WIM in 2016, property officers were required to regularly perform an audit of 10 per cent of the location's property holdings.

Property store audits aim to account for all items held at the station. A full audit requires that all property at a property store is sighted and checked to ensure that it is:

  • consistent with the item description in PaLM
  • stored correctly:
    • in the nominated storage location
    • in designated areas as per SOPs for security and OHS considerations—for example, for drugs, cash, firearms, general property
    • using appropriate storage methods—for example, in a TEAB or hessian bag, or, for firearms, with an open action or safety flag inserted
  • disposed of as soon as legally possible using an appropriate method.

Compliance with audit requirements

We reviewed the completed documentation for 15 audit reports conducted in 2017 from the eight stations that we visited. We found that none of the eight stations fully complied with the WIM requirement:

  • All of the stations audited a portion of their property holdings in the last year.
  • Only one station audited 100 per cent of its property in that year—but it only completed two stocktake audits rather than the required four.
  • Two of the larger stations reported never having undertaken a full audit of their property.

The 2017 internal audit also found that locations are not conducting audits of property stores four times a year, as required. This was confirmed by the PEMRP, which found that each region has adopted different approaches to auditing.

PaLM data analysis on property store audits

We analysed PaLM data about audits of property stores in 2017 and confirmed these findings. Figure 2E shows that 72 per cent of property-managing sites (police stations or central property locations) had audited less than half of their property items. Only 6 per cent of sites had audited more than three-quarters of their property.

Figure 2E
Percentage of items audited in 2017 by the managing location

Figure2E shows the percentage of items audited in 2017 by the managing location

Source: VAGO based on PaLM data, extracted 2 May 2018.

Further to this, within the 72 per cent, we found that:

  • four locations had not audited any of their property items
  • a further 12 locations had only audited between 1 and 5 per cent of their property.

Most of the worst-performing sites (those that had audited less than 10 per cent of their property) were central storage locations or specialist police divisions, rather than police stations.

We also found the following issues:

  • Audit reports are finalised before all missing property items have been found or the outcomes of enquiries have been recorded. Victoria Police asserts that this is common practice as property items cannot be moved if audit reports are open and that anomalies are resolved after closing the report. However, we did not see evidence of follow-up once reports were finalised.
  • The property officer completing the audit is also the 'reviewer' of the audit, who approves the audit for completion.
  • Locations do not consider whether items are still required—that is, reapply the test of essentiality.

Poor audit practices increase the risk that Victoria Police may not detect and correct inaccurate property records. This contributes to poor property and exhibit management practices—issues may not be identified or, if they are, may not be adequately followed up, as there is no consequence for noncompliance within policy and processes.

Constraints of the current requirements

We spoke to property officers at eight stations and the central property stores and reviewed documentation compiled by the PEMRP. We identified some common themes concerning the constraints that hinder compliance with the audit requirements outlined in the WIM.

Time constraints

Property officers at the central property stores and the larger stations we visited cited the scope of work and time required as the reason for not completing 100 per cent of audits. Work unit managers and independent officers have numerous competing priorities, and full audits can take weeks to complete, which may prevent property officers from performing their other daily duties during the audit. Naturally, the more items in storage, the longer audits take. Therefore, it is important for Victoria Police to ensure that it only stores and retains items that pass the test of essentiality.

Documentation from PEMRP indicates that it takes approximately one day to audit about 600 items, if the scanners are functioning correctly and PaLM is not particularly slow. We also spoke to a regional audit team that conducts regular property store audits, and it estimated that it can audit 700 to 800 items a day.

Using a median value of 700 items per day, Figure 2F forecasts how long a full property audit would take for a selection of stations and property stores across the state. These sites were selected based on the volume of their property holdings.

Figure 2F
Estimated time to conduct a full property store audit

Work unit

Total item numbers

Estimated days to complete audits

One full audit

Four full audits

Crime Command Property Office

35 643

51

204

Logistics and Support Division

30 204

43

172

Sunshine (Uniform Unit)

10 445

15

60

Geelong (Uniform Unit)

8 769

13

52

St Kilda (Uniform Unit)

6 412

9

36

Note: Estimated days have been rounded.
Source: VAGO based on PaLM data as at February 2018.

Using the same data compiled in Figure 2F, if the Crime Command Property Office was to adhere to the full requirements of the WIM, the officer in charge and independent officers would spend approximately 102 days each on auditing property, as they are each required to do two full audits per year. This is just over 40 per cent of the approximately 250 working days available each year.

Technology

The technologies used to undertake a property office audit are at times unreliable and impractical.

We observed that the equipment provided to property managers and officers in charge is not fit for purpose. Property officers noted issues with the reliability of the audit scanner, which scans PaLM barcode numbers during stocktake audits. Property officers also report that some scanners do not work at the property stores because there is no internet connection in the property office.

This is a significant reason why staff consider the current audit requirements to be overly burdensome. If the property management system was quick and easy to use and provided accurate and clear information, and if the scanners worked, the audit requirements would be less onerous.

Further, the speed of the PaLM application is an issue, with extremely slow response times to bring up a PaLM record. Some worksites also told us that, on occasion, PaLM times out and data is then lost.

Packaging

Currently, packaging presents challenges when conducting a full audit. In most cases, items are stored in brown paper bags to preserve the integrity of the evidence. Some of these bags are sealed, meaning that it is not possible to verify the contents without opening the bag.

It is the responsibility of the police member who took the item into possession and entered the item onto PaLM to certify that the contents are as described. This means that the work unit manager or independent officer does not check the contents of the package—this is acceptable as opening the bags may compromise the integrity of the evidence. Therefore, most audits will simply scan the barcode on the package, ensuring that the package is in the nominated shelf/cupboard and trust that the contents in the package are correct.

Some staff told us that they do open packaging to inspect the contents, even when it is contained in TEABs. This practice risks contaminating the evidence and compromising the chain of custody. There is no requirement to open any TEAB or sealed containers—police members are only required to check that the seal has not been tampered with and that labels contain the required information. It is the responsibility of the police member and witness who sealed the TEAB to certify that the contents are as described.

Lack of consequences for noncompliance

There is no organisational oversight to hold work units to account if they do not conduct audits as required.

Without consequences for noncompliance, it is unlikely that practices will change. A 'top down' approach to monitoring audits of property stores from senior leadership will be required to drive compliance.

Reporting requirements for audit outcomes

The WIM requires that any property items inconsistent with the PaLM record or found outside designated storage locations should be investigated and reported to the workplace manager and police service area manager.

In instances where anomalies are identified and cannot be reasonably explained, the WIM also requires that the location forward a compliance report to the relevant division within the PSC. When we requested these compliance reports, PSC advised that it had never received any audit compliance reports through this process.

This is a problem as it means that the organisation has no oversight of unexplained anomalies identified through audits. Our own review of the audits conducted by the eight stations we visited showed that some audit reports are finalised before staff have located all missing property items and recorded the outcomes of enquiries. As noted above, while Victoria Police reports that this is common practice and that anomalies are resolved after closing the report, we did not see evidence of this. According to the WIM, any unexplained instances should have been reported to PSC.

More broadly, PSC is responsible for investigating police misconduct, and this is another avenue through which PSC can be made aware of issues relating to property and exhibits. PSC confirmed that it had received some complaints about mishandling of property, although it noted that the proportion of property complaints in relation to all complaints is small. From 2012 to 2017, PSC received 114 complaints about property and exhibits. The complaints were for failure to record, secure or account for property, or damage to property. Of the 114 complaints, PSC substantiated 68 cases.

Results of our stocktake audit

We conducted our own stocktake audits at four stations and two central storage facilities, using two-way matching to confirm that:

  • items recorded in PaLM are on the shelf
  • items on the shelf are accurately recorded in PaLM.

Our analysis is shown in Figure 2G.

Figure 2G
Results of the stocktake audit

Property office

Items per test

 

Exceptions

PaLM to shelf test

Shelf to PaLM test

Location A

113

 

5

11

Location B

133

 

0

4

Location C

39

 

1

3

Location D

33

 

0

0

Location E

27

 

0

2

Location F

39

 

0

0

Note: Our stocktake audits at police stations were of the Uniform police's property, rather than specialist units such as Crime Investigation.
Source: VAGO.

We found 26 exceptions across the six locations:

  • Four related to property accidentally marked as RTO (disposed of) but, as the item was still required, it remained in the property office.
  • Two items had been marked as approved for disposal but remained in the property office.
  • Sixteen items were found in different locations to their recorded locations in PaLM—more often than not, this was on the shelf next to, below or above the correct location.
  • Three items had been incorrectly scanned, or the location had not been updated in PaLM when it had been returned by an informant.
  • One item could not be located—in this instance, the responsible informant reported that the item had been returned to the owner. However, the associated paperwork could not be located.

We found a higher number of exceptions when cross-referencing property on the shelf against PaLM. However, these types of audits are not common practice within property offices and not specifically recommended by the WIM.

The way forward—improving governance around property store audits

The PEMRP recommended that the Workplace Standards Unit amend the annual audit requirements:

  • There should be one full inspection per year by the officer in charge of each work unit.
  • There should be one inspection by an independent officer of high-risk items only (high-risk items include drugs, firearms, currency, jewellery and any other items located within a safe).
  • The independent officer should also choose a sample of PaLM files and apply the test of essentiality. The sample should be 10 per cent of holdings, or 50 files maximum. This will provide an indication of the amount of property that is held without cause. This audit responsibility may be delegated from an independent officer to a senior sergeant.

The Workplace Standards Unit has not yet agreed to these recommendations. Attempting to reduce the audit requirements mainly to accommodate inefficient systems is not acceptable. The agreed audit changes should be based on the level of assurance that the organisation requires for effective property management and staff should be equipped accordingly.

2.7 Organisational monitoring of occupational health and safety risks

Failure to effectively manage property exposes individuals and the organisation to multiple risks, including OHS risks.

For example, short-term effects of handling cannabis can include skin rashes, headaches, nausea and intoxication-like symptoms. Further, the common practice of air-drying cannabis in property stores may expose staff to avoidable health issues.

Fresh cannabis is very susceptible to fungal growth, and these spores may enter the air and be breathed in. Potential long-term effects of this include lung infections and exposure to carcinogens. The seizure of hydroponic equipment from cannabis crop houses can also result in physical hazards.

At the property offices we visited we observed firsthand:

  • cannabis storage facilities that were at or over capacity
  • strong odours emitted in storage facilities where property officers are required to work
  • moulding cannabis
  • deterioration in the packaging due to mouldy and/or wet cannabis
  • an overflow of hydroponic equipment.

Figure 2H shows some examples of how cannabis and hydroponic equipment is stored.

Figure 2H
Storage of cannabis and hydroponic equipment at stations

Figure 2H shows some examples of how cannabis and hydroponic equipment is stored.

Source: VAGO.

When dealing with property and exhibits, police members may also be exposed to other OHS risks resulting from handling hazardous materials or dangerous items, such as other drugs or firearms. Trips and falls may also occur when physically handling items.

Oversight of property-related OHS risks

Victoria Police disseminates safety warnings and alerts regarding identified risks associated with property types. It also has an organisational framework of OHS committees and station hazard inspection checklists and injury management consultants to ensure workplace risks are proactively identified and managed. However, while Victoria Police has systems to identify and manage individual OHS risks and associated claims, it cannot readily identify the volume or trends of OHS claims specifically caused by property management related activities.

To understand the extent of claims related to property, we requested all OHS and workplace incident reports related to property and exhibits, including information on their outcomes, from 2013 to 2018 (approximately five years). We were advised by Victoria Police that identifying those claims would be a manual process, requiring a full-time resource to spend two weeks reading the narratives of over 2 000 WorkCover claims, as the current system could not identify the cause of the claims. Victoria Police did not have a staff member available to perform this task.

This request highlighted the lack of monitoring of OHS data related to the property management function. While we do not have reason to believe that individual claims are not adequately followed up, without an organisation-wide view, Victoria Police cannot understand the extent of OHS claims arising from the management of property and exhibits. It also makes it difficult for Victoria Police to identify common and systemic risks to staff, and act to mitigate them.

Figure 2I provides a case study of OHS risks arising from manual destruction of mobile phones.

Figure 2I
Case study: Manual destruction of mobile phones

Victoria Police members have reported recent incidents in which they have injured themselves while trying to manually destroy digital devices, such as mobile phones, because they are hitting the battery.

In October 2017, a newsletter from the PEMRP directed staff to not destroy mobile phones manually due to the OHS risks. Despite this communication, two of the eight stations we spoke to during field visits were not aware of the new requirement.

Victoria Police intends to include this requirement in the current updates to the VPM.

Source: VAGO.

2.8 Transition to a single property capability owner

The control weaknesses we identified in this part of the report stem from the absence of a single point of accountability for the property and exhibits function. Victoria Police recently established the Operational Infrastructure Department as the single owner for the property and exhibits management function.

Transfer of PEMRP responsibilities

As noted, there were 25 projects in the PEMRP, which ended on 30 June 2018. Victoria Police expected these projects to deliver a range of outputs and outcomes. Some projects will require active, ongoing ownership by the Operational Infrastructure Department, or its delegate, to achieve the desired impacts.

The scope of some of the PEMRP projects was to undertake options analysis or feasibility studies. While the projects delivered these outputs, Victoria Police needs to implement the recommendations from these studies and analyses before the project can achieve all its expected outcomes. Other projects will also require ongoing management, such as maintaining the community of practice for property officers, the e-learning training portal, the implementation of packaging standards and the standardisation of cannabis destruction.

Transferring responsibility for the PEMRP to the Operational Infrastructure Department creates a high risk that progress already made will not be sustained or that the momentum of current activity may be lost. While the Operational Infrastructure Department now owns the property management function, it is not a subject-matter expert in most areas of managing property and exhibits. This may be resolved by bringing together representation from key stakeholder groups, such as Regional Operations, Specialist Operations and Capability Executive Commands to advise the Operational Infrastructure Department.

Ongoing responsibility for property and exhibits

To date, the Operational Infrastructure Department has depended substantially on the success of TALC to fulfil its ongoing property management responsibilities. It does not, at present, have completed plans for the holistic management of property and exhibits, nor has it been allocated dedicated staff for this work.

It is important that Victoria Police ensures that, as the property capability owner, the Operational Infrastructure Department does not only focus on providing its main service—infrastructure, warehousing, transport and logistics services—or only on the continuation PEMRP projects.

The day-to-day management and implementation of property and exhibits is to remain at the station or business unit level and regions/divisions are to remain accountable for property management under their control. However as an effective property capability owner, Operational Infrastructure Department must:

  • monitor coordinated reporting from the divisional and regional/department levels to oversee compliance, and to identify trends and strategically manage the property management function
  • develop and update policies and procedures for property management
  • develop and disseminate comprehensive training
  • enforce and monitor the outcomes of stocktake audits, and monitor other risks, such as OHS risks
  • manage the property management system, ensuring that it is fit for purpose, and uphold data integrity
  • prioritise and oversee improvement projects.

Back to top

3 Seizure, storage and disposal

In this part of the report, we examine the volume of property Victoria Police seizes, how it is stored, the rate of property disposal and the average time items remain in police possession.

We reviewed how Victoria Police uses the test of essentiality to ensure members only seize items that have forensic or investigative value and to consider whether secondary evidence can be used instead of primary items. If used effectively, seizing less property and utilising secondary evidence can reduce the number of property holdings. We also reviewed general storage conditions and how timely Victoria Police is in disposing items it no longer needs.

We use case studies focused on the collection, storage and disposal of several types of property—such as unsolved serious crime exhibits, car registration plates, cannabis and digital devices—to examine how Victoria Police can improve its efficiency and reduce associated risks.

3.1 Conclusion

Victoria Police holds more property than necessary, resulting in process, storage and cost inefficiencies. A weak control environment and devolved governance arrangements—discussed in Part 2—have contributed to this.

Victoria Police cannot be confident that it only retains items based on evidentiary value or that police members rigorously apply the test of essentiality at the scene of a crime. Nor can it be sure it is making the best use of secondary evidence.

Further, it cannot guarantee that items are always stored in a way that preserves their evidentiary value, and it does not know how many items in its possession are subject to the rule to retain exhibits related to unsolved serious crime for a minimum of 50 years.

The sheer volume of seized items in police possession, and its subsequent management, impacts staff workload, security arrangements and disposal. It puts strain on Victoria Police's storage facilities—many of which are already over capacity and not fit for purpose.

There are some examples of good practice. For example, Victoria Police's pilot approach for the early destruction of cannabis successfully used existing legislative provisions to efficiently dispose of cannabis, freeing up significant storage capacity. It has also reduced OHS risks to staff. Implementing this process across the organisation, which Victoria Police recently approved as business as usual, should yield significant benefits.

Proposed amendments to the VPM should improve overall processes and requirements. For example, setting minimum standards for physical storage sites or requiring police members to reapply the test of essentiality periodically for certain items are positive steps. However, significant gaps remain, such as not requiring the creation of secondary evidence for all unsolved serious crime exhibits and not assessing storage locations against known risks that may impact evidentiary value, such as leaking roofs and extreme temperatures.

3.2 Test of essentiality

The test of essentiality means that police should only retain items if they are required for evidentiary purposes and if secondary evidence cannot be used. Applying a robust test of essentiality to property management should minimise property holdings.

Seizing and retaining items based on evidentiary value

Currently, Victoria Police cannot be sure that the test of essentiality is consistently applied to ensure police members are only seizing items of evidentiary value.

As the application of the test is not specifically recorded in PaLM or elsewhere, there is no way to demonstrate or monitor that sergeants are consistently and systematically reviewing and approving the evidentiary value of property being retained.

At the eight police stations we visited, we spoke to a mix of 20 constables, sergeants and senior sergeants about the test of essentiality. Officers, particularly investigators, described a strong inclination toward collecting and retaining physical items. They stated that, at the time of the initial seizure, it is hard to know which items will be significant to a case. Further, if a case is heard in court, the failure to produce primary evidence or make it available to the defence in a trial may ultimately result in a miscarriage of justice.

While this attitude by police members is understandable, it highlights the need for periodic reviews of evidentiary value. As there is currently no such requirement to re-apply the test of essentiality, many seized items that are being held for long periods of time have unconfirmed or doubtful evidentiary value.

Victoria Police established a PEMRP project to revise the test of essentiality. The draft changes, if approved, intend to:

  • make clearer that the test of essentiality applies to all stages of the property life cycle, not just at collection
  • simplify the language and requirements, reduce the length of the test, and include more information about the use of secondary evidence and disposal of primary evidence
  • provide a checklist to ensure that police members follow best practice.

Secondary evidence

As part of the test of essentiality, police members should consider whether secondary evidence could be used in place of the primary evidence. This can help to reduce storage requirements and has the potential to minimise other risks such as manual-handling injuries.

While there are serious constraints on the use of secondary evidence, incremental improvements are possible, for example, for certain low-risk items, such as car registration plates.

Constraints and the need for reform

Property and exhibit management policies and processes are significantly impacted by legislation and the requirements of Victoria Police Prosecutions and the OPP expectations.

Exhibits relating to summary (less serious) charges are managed by Victoria Police Prosecutions and can be disposed of at the discretion of Victoria Police. However, the OPP prosecutes cases of a more serious nature and, while Victoria Police are still the custodians of these exhibits, the OPP has expectations, and in some cases legislative obligations, to have free access to those exhibits. As noted earlier, the failure to produce primary evidence or make it available to the defence could result in a miscarriage of justice. Victoria Police would therefore need to work with OPP to advocate for legislative reform. A PEMRP project researched the opportunity for legislation reform, and Victoria Police raised this issue with the Department of Justice and Regulation for inclusion in its Community Safety Statement 2018–19. To date, however, this legislative reform has not progressed.

Following the completion of the PEMRP, Victoria Police's Policy and Legislation Division, in consultation with the Operational Infrastructure Department, will be responsible for advocating further reform. If legislated, this will further enable the early disposal and/or return of property and exhibits. Victoria Police is currently in the process of evaluating legislative options.

The Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre should also be consulted regarding the creation and use of secondary evidence, especially to take account of potential future forensic developments and examinations.

Victoria Police also has technical limitations in efficiently using secondary evidence as it does not have appropriate processes or IT systems to facilitate its storage. The VPM states that secondary evidence should be recorded on a digital asset register. During field visits, some police members and detectives stated that secondary evidence was stored with the investigation file, while others also recorded such evidence in PaLM.

With the recording and storage of secondary evidence dispersed across three registers, there is a risk that police do not know how much secondary evidence they have, or where all the copies are located. This becomes an issue when secondary evidence needs to be destroyed.

Using secondary evidence for low-risk property

There is an opportunity for Victoria Police to expand its use of secondary evidence for low-risk property types. For example, some stations we visited routinely used photographs for items such as car registration plates and then disposed of the physical item. The case study in Figure 3A outlines our analysis of PaLM data to see how long car registration plates were stored by police.

Figure 3A
Case study: Using secondary evidence for car registration plates

We analysed how long car registration plates that were disposed of had been in police possession. The chart below shows that approximately 2 830 car registration plates recorded in PaLM were disposed of in the first month—however, this represents only 18 per cent of all car registration plates that were held in police stations and property stores. Over 4 000 car registration plates remained in police possession for more than a year, representing 26 per cent of all registration plates disposed of.

Length of time Victoria Police held car registration plates that have since been disposed of

This graph shows length of time Victoria Police held car registration plates that have since been disposed of

Source: VAGO based on PaLM data, extracted 20 June 2018.

In most instances, it is not necessary to retain the physical car registration plates. There is a potential for property items such as these to default to secondary evidence in the form of a photographs, unless there is a specific reason to keep the primary item.

This will reduce the time police hold such property and improve storage capacity. In instances where the exhibit in question relates to an indictable (serious) offence being prosecuted by OPP, Victoria Police will need to consult with OPP to agree on when the use of secondary evidence is appropriate.

PaLM shows that, at 20 June 2018, there were 3 937 records of car registration number plates currently in police possession.

Source: VAGO.

Reapplying the test of essentiality

Victoria Police has a policy that exhibits related to unsolved serious crimes must be retained for a minimum of 50 years. However, Victoria Police does not know how many items in its possession are subject to the 50-year retention rule.

This is because, until the recent VPM update, which is still in draft, Victoria Police did not have a clear and consistent policy on what constitutes a serious crime, nor did it define at what point an investigation is unsolved.

The case study in Figure 3B describes our analysis of PaLM data related to exhibits from unsolved crimes.

Figure 3B
Case study: Unsolved serious crime exhibits currently in possession

Our analysis of the PaLM data shows that there are 121 736 seized items currently in possession that may be subject to the 50-year rule. These items do not have a brief book number, suggesting there is no identified suspect or offender. While there is no set time frame for an investigation to be deemed as unsolved, we used one year, in line with the estimates used by the Operational Infrastructure Department in its analysis for TALC.

The minimum for an investigation to be deemed unsolved is one year, but for some cases this may take up to and above five years.

Data analysis shows that there are 53 361 items that have been in possession for one year without a brief book number. However, even with this information, there are further complications:

  • PaLM data is not granular enough to identify whether these items relate to serious crimes.
  • Identifying which items fall under the rule would require police members to evaluate each file or item individually—this has not been done yet, and station commanders or work unit officers in charge do not have sufficient time and resources to do so.
  • Assessing the evidentiary value for older items that pre-date LEAP and Interpose—Victoria Police databases used to record crime, incidents and investigations—requires a review of the hardcopy investigation file, discussion with the original investigator (if available) and/or speaking with the victim to determine whether there is value in pursuing the case. This is particularly resource intensive.

Nevertheless, it is important to establish the evidentiary value of the items currently in possession to ensure that they are not retained for longer than necessary and thereby a drain on resources.

Source: VAGO.

Dealing with unsolved serious crime exhibits in future

The new VPM updates are intended to introduce a clearer process flow for unsolved serious crime exhibits in the future. Unsolved serious crime exhibits will be transferred to the centralised storage facility and will undergo a five‑yearly review of the evidentiary value of unsolved serious crime exhibits. The new process flow is shown in Appendix C.

The 50-year retention rule has also been updated to require Victoria Police to retain exhibits relating to unsolved homicide and/or missing person investigations indefinitely, while the remaining unsolved serious crime exhibits are still to be retained for a minimum of 50 years.

While the requirement to periodically review items is a step in the right direction, it is unclear how this interacts with the rule to keep items for a minimum of 50 years or indefinitely, during which time they cannot be disposed of without adding unnecessary work every five years.

The value of keeping all unsolved homicide and missing persons files for an indefinite time is also unclear, as they are highly unlikely to be required after a certain time frame—for example, 100 years, as the suspect is likely to be deceased. Victoria Police advises that, even if a suspect is deceased, there is still the ability to finalise a case based on DNA analysis and therefore the property items should be kept. However, this requirement should also be assessed against the likelihood that storage facilities will have limited capacity into the future.

Further, the creation of secondary evidence—in addition to keeping the physical item—should be part of the standard pre-storage procedures for all exhibits related to serious unsolved crimes.

3.3 Storage

Providing adequate storage for property and exhibits is essential for preventing items from degrading, being stolen or lost, becoming damaged or contaminated, and losing their evidentiary value. It also protects staff from associated OHS risks.

Current storage conditions

The central storage sites near Melbourne are not fit for purpose—they are ageing and were not specifically designed and built to store property. They are also over capacity and will not cope with the additional volume of equipment, records and property created by the 3 135 additional officers Victoria Police has committed to recruit by 2020.

The centralised storage facility, which houses long-term and other property and exhibits, is dilapidated and is not configured to the needs of a secure, modern evidence warehouse. The location of the facility presents a broad range of security challenges—Victoria Police currently has no way to ensure the privacy of staff and property entering or exiting the facility. This is a significant security risk, particularly when police deliver seizures from sensitive operations for long‑term storage.

The age and condition of the facility results in poor climatic control—the heating and air conditioning are not adequately regulated. In summer, the warehouse area can reach temperatures of up to 38ºC which, over the long term, may degrade the packaging and contents of seized exhibits.

At older police stations we visited, some property store rooms are equally inadequate. Not all the stations we visited had acceptable ventilation, particularly for the storage of cannabis, which is affecting air quality.

Many property rooms we visited were also overcrowded in general, however one station we visited had particularly poor property storage. At this station, property is dispersed throughout the station and the bulk of evidence is stored in an external shipping container located in the rear yard of the station. Drugs are stored in an additional shipping container within the property. The recorded temperature in the outside container reaches above 50ºC in summer. It is unclear whether the heat has negatively affected the property—there is a risk that the heat could change their chemical composition over time.

The property storage container also has had recurring issues with leaking, which has damaged some items. Evidence has also become mouldy owing to moisture exposure, and staff must now wear personal protective equipment when entering the storage container because of the health risks caused by the mould. Figure 3C shows three images from inside the property storage container.

Figure 3C
Property storage container at a police station

Figure 3C shows three images from inside the property storage container.

Source: VAGO.

Victoria Police has developed a business case to rebuild this station. While the 2018–19 State Budget included $4.8 million for critical upgrades to police stations, this station was not one of those funded for an upgrade.

Storage of long-term items

As noted in Figure 3B, some exhibits must be retained long term or indefinitely. To preserve their integrity, these items need to be stored to a specific standard to protect against contamination and degradation.

Victoria Police cannot be confident that items are retained based on evidentiary value and that the handling and storage of long-term property is safe and secure. The case study in Figure 3D discusses recent Victoria Police initiatives to improve long-term storage of property.

Figure 3D
Case study: Improving packaging and assessing storage conditions for long‑term items

The 2014 evaluation found that there are no packaging standards to ensure the integrity of exhibits related to serious unsolved crimes and that packaging practices were poor. Two PEMRP projects aimed to address these gaps by identifying suitable packaging products to support best practice and to set essential infrastructure standards for storage to reduce associated risks.

Victoria Police is currently reviewing potential new packaging specifications. It intends to procure a suitable packaging solution and develop relevant packaging guidelines to:

  • protect property from any damage or tampering
  • enhance continuity of evidence.

The draft updates to the VPM now require relevant work unit managers to assess police stations and central property storage locations against a checklist of physical standards for all property and exhibit storage sites. While this requirement is positive, Victoria Police has not defined a process for how to resolve identified issues.

Further, the checklist also does not test known risks to property—such as leaking roofs or extreme temperatures—which we observed during our site visits. These are key gaps that Victoria Police should address.

Source: VAGO.

3.4 Length of time in police possession and efficiency of disposal

Where an item passes the test of essentiality, it is taken into police custody and stored at a police station or storage facility.

Length of time in police possession—seized items

Active items

Victoria Police records show 417 985 active seized items in police possession as at 20 June 2018. We analysed the length of time these items have been in police possession by looking at the date the item was received. Figure 3E shows that:

  • 73 per cent (305 284 items) were seized in the last two years
  • 22 per cent (92 185 items) were seized in the last two to five years
  • 3 per cent (13 841 items) were seized in the last five to 10 years
  • 2 per cent (6 675 items) were seized more than 10 years ago.

Figure 3E
Length of time active seized items have been in police possession

Figure3E shows the length of time active seized items have been in police possession

Note: This figure does not include 116 542 items that do not have a receipt date. Issues with data integrity are detailed in Section 2.4.
Source: VAGO based on PaLM data, extracted 20 June 2018.

Volume and shelf life of disposed items

Victoria Police records show 1 190 534 seized items have been in police possession since Victoria Police began recording. Figure 3F shows that:

  • 85 per cent (996 188 items) were in possession for up to two years
  • 14 per cent (167 039 items) were in possession for two to five years
  • 0.75 per cent (13 691 items) were in possession for five to 10 years
  • 0.25 per cent (2 983 items) were in possession for more than 10 years.

Figure 3F
Length of time disposed-of seized items have been in police possession

Figure3F shows the length of time disposed-of seized items have been in police possession

Note: This figure does not include 10 633 items that show zero days in custody and 111 items that show negative days in custody. Issues with data integrity are detailed in Section 2.4.
Source: VAGO based on PaLM data, extracted 20 June 2018.

Delays in analysing digital devices

In some instances, delays obtaining forensic analysis of items—for example, DNA, firearms, drugs and digital devices—contributes to the property remaining in police possession for an extended period of time. The case study in Figure 3G describes delays relating to the forensic analysis of digital devices by Victoria Police's eCrime department.

Figure 3G
Case study: eCrime analysis of digital devices

Most evidence contained within digital devices is analysed by the eCrime department.

All stations we visited during the audit noted significant delays in accessing eCrime services—the volume of jobs serviced by the eCrime department has fluctuated between 1 450 and 1 650 per year.

The department notes that the complexity of analysis and, therefore, the time required to complete it has increased. The table below lists the current prioritisation and wait times.

Prioritisation and wait times for eCrime services

Ranking

Wait time

Example

Priority A—emergency

Immediate

Counterterrorism or serious crimes in which the offender remains a risk to society.

Priority B—high priority

Approximately 10 weeks

Crime Command requests, murder, arson or crimes in which the offender is remanded in custody.

Priority C—low priority

Approximately 14 months

All other jobs.

Source: VAGO based on information provided by Victoria Police.

Delays in accessing eCrime services have resulted in investigations moving on without forensic analysis of the device and may also require stations to store devices for longer than otherwise necessary.

Source: VAGO.

Efficiency of disposal—seized items

Timely disposal of property and exhibits ensures an efficient property management system. We analysed PaLM data to determine the rate of disposal of seized items, as well as its timeliness.

Rate of disposal

Victoria Police does not dispose of seized property in a timely way. Disposing of property as soon as is lawfully and practically possible would help to free up storage capacity.

Victoria Police seizes property at a greater rate than the rate at which it is being disposed of, even though the difference between intake and disposal is reducing year on year. Figure 3H shows that, in 2014, Victoria Police seized 48 860 more items than it disposed of. While this difference reduced to 9 650 items in 2017, the net result for the four years since 2014 shows that Victoria Police collected 175 626 more items than it disposed of.

Figure 3H
Receipt and disposal of seized property items per year

Figure3H shows the receipt and disposal of seized property items per year

Note: We excluded 655 disposals from 2015, as these records were duplicate entries which originated from the data migration starting in 2014.
Source: VAGO based on PaLM data, extracted 20 June 2018.

Timeliness of disposal

Once police receive approval to dispose of an item, it should be disposed of or returned within one month. However, items that are subject to auction may take longer than one month due to the auction times that are dictated by the contracted auction house. Our data analysis shows that, of the 727 825 seized items that have a disposal approval date and a disposal date, 485 445 items (63 per cent) were disposed of or returned within one month of approval.

Figure 3I shows the timeliness of disposal for the remaining 269 380 items. The majority of items were disposed of within three months, however 110 494 items were still in police possession three months after they had been approved for disposal or return. Of these, 1 563 items took longer than two years to dispose of, 15 of which took over five years.

Figure 3I
Length of time between disposal approval date and disposed of / returned date for seized items

Figure3I shows the length of time between disposal approval date and disposed of / returned date for seized items

Note: This figure excludes 715 items that appeared to have a negative duration between approval and disposal—that is, the actual disposal date appears to be before the disposal approval date. Issues with data integrity are detailed in Section 2.4.
Source: VAGO based on PaLM data, extracted 20 June 2018.

Seized items that are linked to a court case should be disposed of once the last court date is passed by 60 days (30 days past the appeal period). Of the 534 539 items on PaLM that have both a court date and a disposed of date, 306 057 items (57 per cent) were disposed of within six months of the court date.

Figure 3J shows the timeliness of disposal for the remaining 228 482 items. It took over two years to dispose of 28 922 items—108 of which were still on the shelf 10 years after disposal was approved.

Figure 3J
Length of time between court date and disposed of / returned date for seized items

Figure3J shows the length of time between court date and disposed of / returned date for seized items

Note: This figure excludes 135 822 items that appear to have a negative duration between last court date and disposal date—that is, the disposal date is before the latest court date.
Source: VAGO based on PaLM data, extracted 20 June 2018.

Barriers to efficient disposal of seized items

The efficient disposal of property generally relies on informants instigating the disposal process, but this is impeded by several factors including:

  • the considerable time taken to investigate and prosecute some offences and the lack of a periodic review process to reapply the test of essentiality
  • a 'set and forget' approach, where once the property is in storage it is no longer thought about—this is in part due to the cumbersome property management system and a lack of clear insight into the status of property through current reporting
  • failure by prosecutors to seek an order from the court for exhibits to be returned, forfeited to the Crown or destroyed
  • transfer and resignation of informants.

Another key issue that impedes efficient disposal of property is that linking brief book numbers to property and exhibits within PaLM is a manual process that members do not always undertake. The status of the brief determines the actions that members need to take and allows property officers or officers in charge to identify property that is ready for disposal. However, when there is no attached brief book number to allow members to check an item's status, these items cannot be readily identified and disposal generally relies on the informant's instructions.

Due to the above issues, disposal is often delayed indefinitely or overlooked altogether. Victoria Police should systematically review these barriers to efficient disposal and determine ways to address them.

The impact of long shelf life and inefficient disposal

Our data analysis shows that there is significant room for Victoria Police to improve the efficiency of its disposal of seized property items. The more seized items that are unnecessarily kept for long periods of time, the more adverse impacts they have on storage capacity, the time and resources required to manage them and conduct audits, and the costs involved in these activities.

Further, data analysis shows that long shelf life and inefficient disposal is also an issue for the found (or lost/unclaimed) property class.

Legislative provisions require Victoria Police to retain this property for a minimum of three months, during which time enquiries can be made to find the rightful owner. After the three-month period, if the owner has not been found, items can either be returned to the finder or disposed of.

There were 37 402 found property items in possession as at 20 June 2018, making up six per cent of all active property—refer to Figure 1B. PaLM records show that 26 106 of those items, or 37 per cent, have been in police possession for over three months, with 12 867 items being in police possession for over one year. Of these, 1 290 items have been on the shelf for five years or more.

Managing this property contributes to storage capacity pressures and uses significant time and administrative resources. The 2014 evaluation found that most found items are retrieved by the owner within one month, after which time there is very little likelihood that an owner will be located. This resulted in a PEMRP project to advocate for reducing the legislative timeframe from three months to one month. While the PEMRP has now disbanded, this activity is being pursued by other areas of Victoria Police.

Efficient destruction of cannabis seizures

Victoria Police's early destruction of cannabis trial is a successful example of how it can use secondary evidence and free up significant storage capacity. This process, outlined in Figure 3K, has also reduced exposure to OHS risks.

Figure 3K
Case study: Efficient destruction of cannabis seizures

Current processes for storing and handling cannabis

The 2014 evaluation found that storing large volumes of cannabis and hydroponic equipment was the most significant contemporary challenge for Victoria Police's management of property and exhibits. As at February 2018, Victoria Police had 12 727 active entries for cannabis (classified as GVM) in PaLM.

The centralised storage facility retains a large volume of cannabis, however police stations have a larger combined total. At times, the centralised storage facility and police stations have been at full capacity and unable to accept further cannabis holdings.

As discussed in Part 2, the storage of fresh cannabis creates numerous OHS risks to Victoria Police members and unnecessarily exposes them to airborne spores and mould produced by drying cannabis.

Early destruction trial

Victoria Police's early destruction pilot trial ran from March 2017 to 30 June 2018 and included only Crime Command. Instead of the finding of fact (FoF) process, the trial used provisions in the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981, which allows for the early destruction of a drug in the interest of health and safety.

Evaluations of the trial show that it achieved several efficiencies and benefits:

  • The trial reduced the time between seizure and destruction—if a FoF was obtained, the cannabis was destroyed in 65 days, but if the FoF was not obtained, the cannabis could be held for years. During the trial, the average time between seizure and destruction was reduced to five days.
  • More efficient destruction processes reduced required storage space—the trial eliminated the need for 203 cubic metres of storage, freeing up this space for alternative use.
  • The trial reduced members' exposure to OHS risk—early destruction of the cannabis eliminated the need for police to store and handle cannabis.

During the audit, we heard several reports that police did not undertake some crop house raids because there was simply no space to store additional cannabis. Eliminating the need for storage space through the trial therefore allowed for more raids of cannabis crop houses. Figures from the trial show that Crime Command could seize and destroy six times more cannabis during the trial period than during a similar period in the previous year.

The Forensic Services Department has analysis that shows that any implementation costs, such as staffing and contractor costs, will be offset by the benefits of:

  • freeing up storage space
  • freeing up property officers' and police members' time
  • eliminating travel time to and from destruction locations for property officers and police members.

The pilot trial was recently approved as business as usual. Victoria Police advises that the ongoing cannabis management strategy will aim to minimise and eventually eliminate the storage of cannabis at police stations and property stores, thereby reducing the risks associated with the handling, transport, storage and disposal of cannabis.

Source: VAGO.

Ensuring disposal methods are legal

In addition to efficiencies, Victoria Police must also consider the legality of its disposal methods. The case study in Figure 3L describes the legal considerations for a returning a mobile phone.

Figure 3L
Case study: Returning found mobile phones to the finder

Under common law, the finder of an item handed into police has a right to claim it if the owner cannot be located within three months.

In early 2018, in consideration of changes to the Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014, Victoria Police sought legal advice from the Victorian Government Solicitor's Office to determine its obligations to return mobile phones and other digital devices to the finder. The Victorian Government Solicitor's Office recommended that found devices be destroyed rather than returned to the finder due, in part, to privacy concerns.

The VPM does not yet include this requirement and, in the interim, the change was communicated to stations via newsletters. We analysed PaLM records for the period January to April 2018 and found that 12 of the 245 found mobile phones (approximately 5 per cent) had been returned to the finder. It is clear from PaLM comments that some stations are aware of the new requirements, with comments noting 'cannot be returned to finder for privacy reasons'. However, four phones were returned to finders in March 2018 and two in April 2018 after the new requirements came into effect.

The requirement will be added to the VPM as part of the current update. Victoria Police should continue to monitor compliance through PaLM data and follow up with stations as appropriate.

Source: VAGO.

3.5 Transport and Logistics Centre

The TALC proposal was based on the concept of selling Victoria Police's current four high-value central sites and investing the proceeds in a single fit‑for-purpose warehouse in Melbourne's northern or western industrial precincts. Victoria Police projects that, after some upfront investment from government, the sale of the four sites would offset the cost of purchasing and building TALC and return a surplus of $21 million to government.

TALC aims to improve Victoria Police's management of equipment, records and property by:

  • reforming the distribution process and travel times
  • building a central warehouse and removing some of the storage burden at local police stations
  • investing in fit-for-purpose warehousing and logistics technology
  • improving warehouse management processes.

Projected efficiencies and benefits

While TALC would be an improvement on Victoria Police's current ageing facilities, the Operational Infrastructure Department also expects it to deliver a number of efficiencies and improvements in the management of property and exhibits.

Time savings

The practice of police members transporting property to and from storage locations removes officers from their operational policing duties. While transportation of inventory and equipment was not the focus of our audit, the Operational Infrastructure Department calculated that police undertake more than 6 300 trips and travel over 1.2 million kilometres to distribute property, equipment and inventory around the state each year. This is over 77 000 hours of police time, the equivalent of 10 000 shifts, that are redirected from policing to transport and distribution.

By improving the distribution process, TALC could reduce the 77 000 police hours used on distribution and allow police to focus on core policing duties.

Storage efficiencies

Victoria Police estimates that, on average, 24-hour police stations are each storing 140 cubic metres of property. This means that, in total, the state's 102 24‑hour stations are storing 16 800 cubic metres of property.

Central storage locations are also currently at or over capacity. TALC has been designed to accommodate 45 per cent of long-term evidence currently stored at police stations. In the absence of an organisation-wide definition of what constitutes long-term property, the Operational Infrastructure Department used its own definition of one year for the purpose of the TALC proposal. Within local police stations, long-term exhibits can be kept for more than 10 years depending on the type of investigation and the availability of staff to review items.

In addition, the project will centrally arrange more efficient disposal processes for destroying documents and recycling metals, along with a new centralised cannabis destruction model, based on the early destruction pilot trial.

Fit-for-purpose technology and equipment

Victoria Police currently uses six warehouse management systems. They are not fit for purpose and do not integrate with each other or with PaLM. TALC would provide Victoria Police with the opportunity to implement an overarching warehouse management solution to provide real-time recording of stock flow and visibility of inventory. This, in turn, would speed up the process of storing, auditing and accessing property within the warehouse.

Future of transport and logistics

Victoria Police does not have alternative options in place to address the needs identified in the TALC proposal. The Operational Infrastructure Department told us that it will commence planning for secondary options and consider property and logistics improvements that are independent of TALC. However, as of 30 June 2018, there are no plans in place.

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Appendix A. Audit Act 1994 section 16—submissions and comments

We have consulted with Victoria Police and considered its views when reaching our audit conclusions. As required by section 16(3) of the Audit Act 1994, we gave a draft copy of this report, or relevant extracts, to Victoria Police and asked for its submission and comments. We also provided a copy of the report to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Responsibility for the accuracy, fairness and balance of those comments rests solely with the agency head.

Victoria Police's response is included below.

RESPONSE provided by the Chief Commissioner, Victoria Police

RESPONSE provided by the Chief Commissioner, Victoria Police

RESPONSE provided by the Chief Commissioner, Victoria Police

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Appendix B. PEMRP project streams

Figure B1
PEMRP projects

Project Owner

Project Descriptions

Infrastructure and IT Department

  • Develop standards for property and exhibit holding sites, and support sites to ensure standards are met.
  • Undertake a feasibility study to identify future options to deliver best value in the management of Victoria Police property and exhibits.
  • Identify the potential to recover antecedent storage costs from the Asset Confiscation Office.
  • Ensure handling and storage of seized/surrendered firearms and ammunition comply with legislative requirements.
  • Explore cost-effective options for destruction of regulated and prohibited weapons that minimise risk.

Capability

  • Advocate legislative reform to enable the taking of samples and immediate destruction of bulk cannabis and equipment.
  • Establish a standardised approach and scope for obtaining FoF for GVM at the earliest opportunity.
  • Evaluate the opportunity for legislative reform (section47 of the Evidence Act 2008) to expand the scope of secondary evidence and advocate for change.
  • Advocate legislative reform of section78 of the Magistrates' Court Act 1989 to enable the use of an item seized under a search warrant for investigative purposes without a requirement to 'return the warrant' to a magistrate.
  • Advocate amendment to section57 of the Victoria Police Act 2013 to reduce three months to one month before unclaimed property may be disposed of.
  • Review the disposal process for property on hand linked to briefs filed for more than six months with a warrant of apprehension.
  • Options Paper: End to End Policy Ownership of Property and Exhibits Management.
  • Establish a community of practice for property officers to support property and exhibit management best practice and risk management.
  • Review and develop policy for disposal of mobile phones and portable data storage devices.
  • Undertake a feasibility study for the outsourcing of lost and found property and a web-based register.

Forensic Services Department

  • Review and develop procedures and standards for the destruction of cannabis.
  • Review and establish best methods of packaging to ensure continuity and integrity of property and exhibits, and minimise OHS and ethical risks.
  • FSD develops a timetable for the delivery of surrendered or forfeited firearms to Ballistics Section that maximises efficiencies.

Legal Services Department

  • Revise the test of essentiality decision-making tool in regard to seizure and retention of items/exhibits.
  • Broadmeadows Prosecutions Pilot within the case conference process for disposal of exhibits not required (by agreement with defence).
  • Develop policy for early lawful disposal of items held on behalf of the coroner, and arrangements for coroner payment of storage costs where property must be retained.

People Development Command

  • Undertake a training needs analysis in relation to the management of property and exhibits, and develop a suite of ongoing professional development and training activities to address identified capability gaps.

Crime Command

  • Establishment and conclusion of taskforces and squads with reassignment of property and exhibits still on hand to a nominated unit manager.
  • Review the current policy for the storage of unsolved serious crime exhibits and amend to include programmed review of items retained in relation to unsolved serious crime to mitigate risk.
  • Regions Command Divisions and Victoria Police Forensic Services Centre to develop and action an FoF plan for disposal of all drugs held longer than 24 months.

Source: VAGO based on information provided by Victoria Police.

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Appendix C. Draft updated process flow for seized items

Figure C1
Draft updated process flow for seized items where an offender has not been identified

FigureC1 shows the draft updated process flow for seized items where an offender has not been identified

Source: VAGO based on information provided by Victoria Police.

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