store and handle evidence
How you store and handle evidence is critical to your department’s success in pursuing investigations. store and handle evidence
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We’ve all seen articles about missing or mishandled evidence jeopardizing individual cases or the reputation and hard work of a police department. Too often, overcrowded property and evidence rooms consume dwindling departmental resources. Even worse: situations in which inconsistent evidence handling negatively affects the outcome of a case.
Layered on top of these day-to-day challenges is a difficult economy that has many jurisdictions reducing staff and asking their officers and “P-and-E teams” to do more with less. Fortunately, tactics exist that can help any police department overcome these challenges. Automated property and evidence tracking systems can help your department do more with less—and help you avoid the following four common mistakes.
No. 1: Inconsistent Evidence Handling
For most law enforcement agencies, finding a way to consistently manage property and evidence while maintaining a secure chain of custody is a paramount concern. Evidence can take virtually any form, from the ordinary—forms, files and receipts—to the complex and highly controlled—weapons, drugs, money or DNA. Evidence can even be in electronic form, such as digital photos or images of actual evidence that must be tied to the appropriate case files. Almost as complicated are the variety of locations evidence may be stored, from bike racks to impound lots, from testing labs to climate-controlled storage units, from bank accounts to locked storage rooms, and so on.
Despite the variables, one thing remains constant: Regardless of the type of evidence and where it’s stored, you must be able to track, manage and secure each item throughout the full chain of custody. That can be a tall order. Many agencies find barcode evidence tracking a good place to start. In more complex environments, a full-scale automated property and evidence tracking system can help. Such software tools allow you to see in a single system the storage location and security level for every piece of evidence you have logged in. Software systems make it easy to instantly locate items at any given time during the chain of custody. They can even streamline evidence handling and reduce lost evidence by putting the information you need at your fingertips instantly.
No. 2: Lax Security
Securing your property and evidence throughout the entire chain of custody is just as important as storing it. That means you must know where items are, where they’ve been and who has touched them at any given time, from collection through disposition. This, too, can be a daunting task. But again, an automated tracking system can give you a leg up. The most advanced systems track evidence by type and then control access by assigning different personnel different security levels and types of access.
Some systems even include an audit feature that documents every action taken on each piece of evidence throughout the full chain of custody. That gives you extra security because it shows you who accessed a piece of evidence, when they accessed it and what they did with it.
Some software systems go one step further: They integrate both physical and electronic evidence into a single system. With such systems, you can attach electronic images, such as digital photos of a crime scene or an image of the evidence itself, to individual case files. Officers and investigators who need to access the evidence can then rely on the electronic image, rather than checking the actual evidence out of the system. What’s more, many such systems include a digitized signature feature. So even when you have no choice but to physically remove evidence from the property and evidence room, the system provides an audit trail, which can greatly reduce evidence-mishandling claims.
No. 3: An Inflexible System
Regardless of the system you use to manage your property room, you must remember that your users aren’t computer programmers, they’re police officers. Finding a system that’s flexible enough to meet your department’s processes will help your staff view the system as a time-saver rather than another complication during their shift.
If your department is like most agencies, you and your staff have years—perhaps decades—of experiencing handling property and evidence. You’ve developed unique workflows and processes that are important to your agency. So if you’re considering an automated property and evidence tracking system, look for one that can align with your existing processes and will allow you to easily add or modify fields to reflect your unique needs, such as specific data-capture or reporting requirements.
Finally, find a system that’s intuitive, fast and simple to use, with features that your team can learn quickly and use immediately without extensive training or months of practice.
No. 4: Lack of Planning
Don’t make the common mistake of short-sightedness. Although you may be focused today on solving today’s problems, try to envision your department’s future needs as well. For example, if your jurisdiction is experiencing rapid growth or if you store property and evidence in multiple locations, scalability—a system’s ability to grow as you grow—may be essential.
If you’re considering an automated property and evidence tracking system, you have plenty of options. They range from barcode labeling and tracking only physical records to more sophisticated systems that
can support larger agencies and provide a much greater range of customizable tracking and management features. The bottom line:
Select a system that meets your needs today and will grow to meet your needs well into the future.
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