In this webinar, the Evidence Management Institute’s Executive Director, Shawn Henderson, discussed technology in evidence management. Topics included: why is evidence technology important to you, six game-changing technologies, four essential pieces of technology, and how to evaluate your existing technology and automation.
Throughout the presentation, several random questions were posed by the audience. The questions were answered by Shawn, unless otherwise noted….
Question: Do you see RFID radio frequency emerging for evidence management?
Answer: I do think that there is a time when that technology will have an application. I don’t think that time is now. Quite honestly, I have not studied RFID enough to really be an expert on the field, but I know that the most important thing about tracking evidence is not whether it moves in your room, it’s the exchange.
It’s the custody exchange from one person or one place to the next. That’s going to be critical regardless of how you track evidence. It’s the record of those transactions and the documentation of that evidence.
I can’t see an application right now where RFID alone would be sufficient. I think that some other identification method – whether it’s a package label or a barcode – is going to be critical in identifying evidence. I mean, we can’t see RFID. We can see a barcode, we can see a label, but I do think that someday that technology will emerge and have a place.
When Shawn was discussing “Six Game-Changing Technologies,” someone asked…
Question: Everyone has limited funds. So, when you look at all of this really cool gadgetry, where do you start? Do you go for the cash-counter? Do you go for the control system? I mean, what’s the priority level?
Answer: It really depends. You’ve got to take a hard look at your existing operations and see where you need the most help.
The nice thing about some of these systems – like currency counters and key control systems – is there’s not a recurring cost. So, you might be able to convince your chief to cut loose with a little seizure money. If you’re on a paper-based system, or if you’re using an RMS for chain of custody and evidence documentation, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to go straight to a key control system or a currency counter to fix your problems. Your problems start much lower down then that; start with the automation technology that you use.
You’ve got to take a 30,000 foot view of your operations and see where the problems are, to see where to begin. I didn’t add a currency counter or a key control system to our facility until we had fixed some of the baseline stuff. We brought on a digital evidence management system – Trackers’ software – years ago and that really put us on the path to sustainability.
Question: Is cloud-based storage compliant?
Answer from Joe Miller of Tracker Products: From Tracker’s standpoint… we utilize Amazon web services and Microsoft Azure. We are in a special sector of AWS called GovCloud.
So, the answer to that is yes. But, not all clouds are created equal. If you’re looking at a vendor- no matter what software it is – that’s a question that you definitely need to ask; whether their environment and their software is CJIS compliant.
We’re about 87% cloud-based. The other 13% have a business use-case or a policy that dictates that they must be on prem. We have had several law enforcement agencies – that have been on premise only – that have called crying because they lost everything.
Shawn added: I believe that every ransomware, data loss case, for municipalities or county governments, has been directly related to a locally-based server – or server machine – that’s on premises. I don’t know of any cases of ransomware attacks on cloud-based applications. Even records management systems are moving to the cloud. I mean, almost every type of information storage is moving into the cloud.
Question: How would you tell your upper command staff that they do not need access to all of the areas of the evidence room?
Shawn’s Answer: That’s a great question, and it is probably one of the most common questions that we get asked in training classes. Good chiefs, or good executives, have an understanding that they don’t need access.
But, if your chief, or your chief executive, or your sheriff – whoever’s in charge – absolutely demands that they have access into your storage vault, then there’s not a lot that you can do. I would make sure that you document it in an email and just make sure that they understand they’re going to be a part of every internal affairs investigation. They’re going to be a part of each inquiry into the system, because they are one of the people that have access into the evidence vault; and anyone that has access needs to be scrutinized.
Probably the best reason that I could provide is: Chief, at the end of the day, if something happens in here, you’ve got to be able to objectively render a decision, a disciplinary decision based on the facts that are brought to you. If you’re one of those people that could have been in the room and could have caused an issue or could have been part of an issue, then that adds a liability that you probably just don’t need to carry with you.
I mean, there’s no compelling business reason for a chief executive to have access to the secure areas of an evidence facility. But, I can’t control pride and I can’t control that sense of entitlement.
I would also point them to best practices and standards. When you look at the standards and best practices for evidence management, you’ll see that access should be limited. You can look on our website, you can look at other bodies of standards or best practices… they’re all going to recommend the same thing.
Question: What are some of the downfalls of RMS systems?
Answer: A records management system is designed to take case data and case information. If you’re an RMS company, you start out and you want to build the best case filing system possible. And then you realize, to really sell your product, you’ve got to increase your market share.
So, then you add on computer assisted dispatch or a CAD system. So you’ve got CAD and RMS, you want those things to work together, you want the CAD system to dump information into the RMS; you’re trying to reduce redundancy. A lot of these companies do CAD and RMS really well, but they don’t know anything about managing evidence.
Evidence management has different requirements and it has a lot of different workflow processes that just don’t get included in most RMS systems. Most RMS systems, you type out an offense report, you filed a case, it takes all the records and puts them together in a nice little package.
I don’t know of too many out there that you can: Do a really robust inventory with that RMS system, that you can track notifications, that do automated disposition notifications, that help you export evidence or chain of custody documentation, and track and facilitate lab movement – or item movement – in sophisticated ways. Most RMS systems just simply don’t do that.
The Evidence Management Institute and Tracker Products want to give you something productive to think about during this time of uncertainty. This is the sixth webinar in a series of free evidence management training and panel discussions. Watch and comment on the recordings here, or – to get in on the discussion – join the Evidence Management Community Forum.
To learn more about the Evidence Management Institute, VISIT EMI HERE.
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