Today’s major crime investigations are strongly rooted in interview notes, paper records collected in the “box,” and time-intensive and resource-heavy disclosures in binders.
Although police agencies have been quick to adopt technology, this revolution has had a less pronounced impact on the investigation and disclosure of major crimes. Mitigating factors include lack of case management software options, training limitations of major crime investigators and resistance from investigators more comfortable with traditional processes.
Many large, complex investigations are now investigated using paper-based methodologies, the drawbacks of which are countless. Limitations in document management; minimized situational awareness due to slow information flow and cumbersome information retrieval; and significant disclosure overhead are a few of the bottlenecks.
Electronic major case management (eMCM) systems are a clear improvement. Investigator needs, expectations and apprehensions must be addressed with solid training, IT resources and
legislative/procedural requirements. This migration should be strongly influenced by the court’s transition from accepting electronic disclosure to requiring it.
Steps to Ensure Success
1. Address computer literacy: Set a bar for core technical competency. External service providers can provide customized training. For larger organizations, it’s worth conducting a cost-benefit analysis of your IT department becoming trainers/facilitators as a part of its professional development plan.
2. Introduce technology into your existing toolkit: To ease the transition, incorporate supplemental methods and equipment into existing procedures. Replace analog recording with digital. Several digital recorders save files in a “discloseable” format (preferably WMA or MP3). Avoid recorders that use a proprietary format because they’ll need to be converted prior to disclosure. Many digital records have built-in USB connections, eliminating time spent on finding patch cords.
3. Implement a hybrid paper/electronic system: The simplest method is to take a paper-based investigation, scan the entire file into a searchable PDF and then compile into a format acceptable to the courts. Tape audio and video can be converted to a digital format to address disclosure requirements and provide an electronic copy of the investigation for archival purposes. Note: The initial scanning/document conversion process is extremely time-consuming.
4. Introduce an eMCM system: The transition to an eMCM system requires computer hardware purchases (workstations and potentially costly servers), installation and set-up, training on the eMCM system, administrative overhead and the eMCM software system itself. A few commercial options are available (see sidebar, below). You can also choose a customized solution tailored to meet the needs of your organization. A needs-analysis should be completed, followed by a formal evaluation and eventual procurement process.
5. Integrate an eMCM system with electronic disclosure: Depending on your eMCM system’s disclosure capabilities, you may need to extract information from your system and disclose it to the courts in an acceptable format, which may require third-party software. If your organization has previously adopted an electronic disclosure system for your paper-based files, the best option would be to integrate your eMCM system into it.
6. Look ahead: This includes monitoring case law in relation to electronic disclosure and proactively addressing court feedback. New technologies are also available, such as electronic pens that capture notes in an electronic format or automatic voice to text software.
Moving toward eMCM and disclosure is a logical evolution. This isn’t a new process or technology. It’s been developed, refined and deployed in many organizations. The bottom line: A coordinated approach will be most fruitful.
Agnovi’s X-FIRE supports the storage of structured investigative information, advanced searching and instant collaboration.
Customer Expressions’ i-Sight Investigation Software records evidence and documents each phase of an investigation.
PPM 2000’s Perspective is an enterprise-level reporting and investigation management
Trinus Technologies’ eSolve(r) is a
Web-based investigation, major case and serious crime management solution.
Ryan Sales is the president of iConsulting Corporation, a strategic consulting firm with a focus on project management and eMCM/disclosure. Sales finished his 12-year emergency services career (police and security, EMS, and military) as the manager of electronic major case management and disclosure for the RCMP’s K Division Serious Crimes Branch.