Shawn Henderson began the webinar by saying, “I always start the show with the same two messages. One is to encourage folks to check out the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook. It’s a great resource that you can use to your advantage and it’s specifically designed for evidence custodians and evidence managers to have a place to connect. There are nearly 850 people participating in that. The cool thing is you can go there and find answers to questions about particular issues, or just see how evidence is being managed in different parts of the country.
The other thing I usually start off with is a shout-out to Tracker Products because they’ve kept the lights on for us for the last three years. Today we’re sitting at the table with the Founder and CEO of Tracker Products, Ben Townsend. We formed a partnership three years ago and we like the trajectory of it.
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I haven’t had Ben on the show to talk about evidence management technology. So I thought, Hey, why not now? We are meeting up here in beautiful Cincinnati anyway, why not talk about why you shouldn’t let technology eat your lunch.
***Ben can be seen at the top of the image and Shawn is on the lower left
We have had nothing but technological difficulties setting up today. I’m not in my spacious, cavernous studio back home. We’re literally at Ben’s lunch table. So, that has presented lots of fun problems, but that’s neither here nor there.
So what are we talking about today? Well, the concept for today was not letting technology eat your lunch. Even though technology has eaten our lunch today <laugh>, we’re not gonna get stuck there. We’re gonna talk about where we get stuck related to technology. We’re gonna talk about the future of evidence management technology. We’ll talk about a cool concept called a virtual regional lunch and learn, and we’ll talk about the next time we show up here for The Evidence Show.
First, let’s talk about where we get stuck when it comes to evidence technology.
Ben is on the Tracker side creating software, but he has seen a lot of the same things that I see from a consulting and training perspective. And, when you see the same thing happen over and over and over again, there’s a bit of a pattern there. What do you see out there, Ben?”
Ben said, “I’ve been watching the evidence management community for 15 years. In terms of technology, that is a long period of time to see things change over the years. The reason we got into this industry was because of a lack of technology. What we saw out there was a LOT of old technology. And much of that old technology is now really, really old technology. Or worse… some people are still using pen and paper.
Now, I’m glad to say, I think there is certainly more technology in place today than there was 15 years ago, but I will still stand by this statement… I believe most evidence rooms are farther behind on technology than any other area in the police department. I can’t explain it. I don’t know why it’s that way. For whatever reason, many evidence rooms are simply antiquated.”
Shawn added, “You’ve got to also factor in that law enforcement in general – not just in the evidence room – are traditionally late adopters of technology. That’s been the case for years. I mean, take digital photographs for example. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that most courts started allowing digital photographs to be introduced as evidence. Now there is no film camera evidence at all. It’s all digital now. But it took years after digital photography was introduced for law enforcement to adopt it. So, it doesn’t surprise me that evidence rooms are lagging behind the technology curve because law enforcement as a whole lags behind with technology.
A few areas where I see people getting stuck in technology? I see evidence rooms trying to rely on technology that was not designed or intended for evidence rooms. I hear about a lot of folks contending with general software. RMSs are great for records management and CAD systems are great for dispatch and calls, but evidence systems are a completely different animal. And that’s why I want to talk specifically about evidence management technology.”
Ben said, “What I’ve seen over the years is that if you’re in evidence management, you feel like you’re in a specialized role. But for many departments, chiefs, sheriffs – whatever the case may be – they don’t look at evidence management as a specialized role. It’s just, Hey, just stick a barcode on it. There is no understanding of how specialized it needs to be.
Many people are tossed into technology like an RMS, and they’re just stuck there. But, it doesn’t do what they need it to do. I would argue vehemently that you need a specialized product to accomplish the tasks that are unique to evidence management.
Part of the problem is that most people don’t really know how to convey that message to a police chief. It all starts with being able to convey what the evidence management unit’s needs are, and that this system right here can do what I need to do versus the RMS system.
It’s critical that you’re able to convey what a specialized evidence management product like ours will do. We’re going to cover some of that here today; those unique features of evidence-specific software. Your ability to convey that may very well determine the technology you will use in the future.”
Shawn said, “I think another thing to just throw in there… a lot of systems will put barcodes on a label for you. It’s not just having a barcode that really is important. It’s, How do you manage your evidence? A barcode is gonna identify a piece of evidence, but how does your software help you automate workflows like intake and disposition?
You can put a barcode on any data string. Any piece of information can have its own barcode. And a lot of these Records Management Systems all they really do to accommodate evidence is produce a barcode number to put on a label. They don’t help you with disposition. They don’t help you with tasks. They don’t help you with data or analytics. They don’t help you with the chain of custody.
The most important thing about technology related to evidence is how does it create, generate and secure your chain of custody? Can you see everything that’s happened to that item from cradle to grave? Every time it’s moved, every time it’s been touched, every time it’s been inventoried or audited.
Those types of things don’t get captured in Records Management Systems, because they’re not thinking about those issues. They’re just thinking, I gotta put a barcode on it. I need to know when it’s in. I need to know when it’s out.
So we get stuck with incompatible technology. We get stuck with hardware that is not what we need to accomplish our jobs. When I’m talking about hardware, there are still folks out there that are dealing with barcode scanners that are tethered to anchor-style laptops or desktops for evidence management.
The biggest Achilles heel that I’m seeing right now is where your network is located. The agency I retired from in 2018 got hit with a ransomware attack after I left. I’m seeing that happen all across the country – where there are local or on-premise servers – people are getting hammered by malware, Trojan, or ransomware attacks. And a lot of that happens with on-prem servers.
We don’t wanna dwell on the problems but the problems are manifold and the problems are commonplace. They happen all over the country. We see them over and over again. But, instead of dwelling on what’s wrong with technology, let’s talk about where we see technology going in the next five to 10 years.
Let’s talk a little bit about the future of evidence management technology; specifically where I see the industry going. And Ben, you can disagree with me. We disagree about a lot of things. We disagree about chili. We disagree about baseball. But, we are usually in lockstep when it comes to technology.
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Just for full transparency, I bought Tracker’s product 10 or 12 years ago when it was an entirely different product. I looked across the market, because I wanted to solve problems for my agency, and I thought that their software did the best job at solving my problems.
But now, when I look at the industry from a teaching and consulting perspective, I’m kind of looking for the next big thing. And, I think that there are three different areas that are gonna become the future of the industry.
One is mobile applications. I think, in the not-to-distant future that most evidence management tasks are going to happen on telephones. And I don’t mean corded telephones. Like I had when I was a child. I mean, iPhones or whatever phones aren’t iPhones. What’s the name of a phone that’s not an iPhone?”
Ben said, “Android. <laughing> I’m glad I’m here to help you with your technology.”
Shawn said, “The big holdback for mobile technology historically was computing power. And now with the types of chips that they’re putting into these mobile devices, they’re processing power is so fast. It’s incredible. When you look at the types of things that held us back from an input standpoint, like the barcode scanners, the barcode scanning engines on mobile phones, and the cameras on mobile phones (and tablets) are so much faster. So much more responsive than they were five years ago.
Three years ago, it probably wouldn’t have made sense to try to do an inventory with a cell phone barcode scanner. And frankly, I don’t think that it makes sense today to do a large-scale inventory on a mobile device, but I think five years from now, everything is gonna be app-based and it’s gonna be faster than we’ve ever done it before. What would you say about that, Ben?”
Ben said, “For me, the primary thing to know about our software is the architecture with which we’ve built our product. I’ve been preaching for 15 years that cloud-based, mobile applications are critically important. One of the main features of the product is its ability to move forward in cloud and mobile technology.
So, if you’re considering a product and the vendor’s not even talking about that, I would suggest you look elsewhere. Some of our biggest competitors are still on-prem desktop-type of computers, and we’re still seeing people buy those today. It doesn’t make any sense. These desktop products are simply not built for mobile technology and large-scale, future thinking.
I think the primary thing that people need to look at when it comes to technology is, What is the architecture? Is that vendor forward-thinking? Are they looking for the latest, greatest technology or are they stuck in 20 years ago type stuff? I think that’s a really important thing to answer.
I will say that 15 years ago, the people that bought into cloud technology thought it was a cool concept. So, maybe they thought, Man, I’m really forward-thinking by going in that direction. But, by and large, that was not the popular thinking back then. Today, we’re dealing with clients that demand cloud technology.
If you go back 10 years ago, I would say 80% of every client we had was in our cloud technology, and it’s pushing the upper nineties right now. It is rare that we come across somebody that is looking to buy and house on-prem data storage.
It’s commonplace knowledge that the cloud is more affordable. It’s easier to deal with. People know what the cloud is now. I don’t have to sit here and make the arguments that I made 15 years ago when people didn’t understand this stuff. They now know it now.
When we get IT people in the room, they’re like, I want cloud-based evidence technology. I want that one because it’s less work for me. I don’t have to maintain any infrastructure to support that product. I know it will be up to date.
And people by and large understand it is a more affordable way to go. So, that’s not an argument I have to make anymore. My job becomes more about giving them better technology, offering more features, and trying to make it more affordable.”
The Evidence Management Institute and Tracker Products want to give you something productive to think about during this time of uncertainty… a series of free evidence management training and panel discussions. Watch and comment on the webinars here. Or – to get in on the discussion, with nearly 850 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.