It feels good to be first––especially when being first means you’re helping to solve crimes and keep CU Boulder students safe.
The CU Boulder Police Department’s property and evidence unit is the first university police department in North America to earn the SCS Northwest Evidence Management Professional Accreditation certificate, a process that took about two years to complete. SCS’s Stephen Campbell, a 28-year veteran of law enforcement, awarded the certificate to the unit in June and will conduct an in-person visit in late spring 2022 to conduct a one-year review.
The accreditation process put everything under the microscope: the unit’s evidence collection, intake and storage procedures, as well as the “purging” of evidence from solved cases, plus all of the unit’s policies.
Property and evidence supervisor Will Heskett noted that earning the accreditation during a pandemic created some unique challenges. Onsite visits transitioned to lengthy Zoom sessions. But, as rigorous as the process was, COVID-19 also provided the gift of time. With fewer students on campus and less evidence flowing in and out (the office normally handles thousands of items per year), Heskett was able to dedicate more resources toward earning the accreditation.
One of the most detailed elements of accreditation was an audit of nearly two dozen random cases selected for inspection. Along with leveraging Heskett’s experience throughout the process, CUPD utilized the consulting services of Dr. Maria Pettolina. Pettolina has more than a decade of experience in the forensic field. She was hired by CUPD in 2018 to assist with the accreditation and remains contracted to help with property research. The unit will also undergo annual reviews prior to re-accreditation every three years.
The idea to become the first campus police department to earn this accreditation came from CUPD’s Chief Doreen Jokerst. Heskett and Pettolina say Jokerst’s support throughout the lengthy accreditation process was crucial.
“Property and evidence can be one of those areas that flies under the radar, so to speak, so it was great that we had support from our chief to align ourselves with best practices,” Heskett said.
Pettolina added, “I can say CUPD is exceeding best practices. The department is compliant and accountable, and this helps build trust with the community.”
CUPD’s property and evidence unit is adding a specialist to the team in the near future. When that happens, Campbell says the new hire will benefit from the many hours of work put into earning the accreditation, including the creation of a new training manual.
“The new hire will be put through a detailed training to a level I have never seen before. CUPD is the gold standard for universities,” Campbell said.
Earning this accreditation means more than just being “first.” It’s also a step toward building trust between the police department and the campus community in an era defined by protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
“Accreditation in law enforcement is more important now than ever. It’s an investment,” Pettolina said.
Campbell added, “It’s important for the university community to get a feel for how the police handle evidence, whether it’s for prosecution or exoneration. People want to know safety is the number one focus.”
As for Heskett, he said it was “pats on the back all around” upon learning his unit was the first university property and evidence section to earn such an honor. Then, it was back to work in a busy unit that doesn’t rest on its laurels.