With enhancements in evidence management software, investigators have powerful new tools and innovative methods to help solve cold cases–even decades later.
What is Evidence Management Software?
Cloud-based evidence management software is a tool that helps law enforcement organizations manage the collection, storage, and analysis of evidence. This software allows investigators to store and track evidence throughout the entire investigative process, ensuring that it is handled properly and not lost or compromised.
Evidence management software has many features that make it an essential tool for law enforcement agencies. For example, it allows investigators to assign and track evidence to specific cases, generate reports, and maintain an audit trail of all actions performed on the evidence.
How Evidence Management Software Helps Solve Cold Cases
One of the most significant benefits of evidence management software is that it allows investigators to reexamine old cases with fresh eyes. By using this software, investigators can identify patterns in the digital media evidence and find connections between pieces of evidence that were previously overlooked.
For example, evidence inventory software helps investigators identify similarities between different cases that may have been committed by the same individual. It can bring up a list of first-party evidence and third-party evidence for manual review to help investigators identify new witnesses or suspects who were previously overlooked.
Notable Cases Solved with Evidence Management Software
There have been many cases where the evidence software has been instrumental in solving crimes. Here are some notable examples:
The Golden State Killer
The Golden State Killer was a notorious serial killer and rapist who committed crimes throughout California in the 1970s and 1980s. Despite a massive manhunt, the killer was never caught.
However, in 2018, investigators used evidence management software to reexamine the case. By analyzing DNA evidence files, investigators were able to identify a suspect who had never been on their radar before. In 2020, the suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, pleaded guilty to 13 murders and multiple rapes. Without this access to evidence in digital format, it may have delayed solving the case even longer.
How did law enforcement officers use their evidence collection? A case from the 1970s was re-opened using DNA evidence. At the time of the crimes, DNA testing was not yet available. But with the development of new DNA testing methods and the implementation of an efficient evidence management system, investigators were able to re-test old evidence to identify a suspect. By using the evidence management software to keep track of all the different pieces of evidence and their associated DNA results, investigators were able to build a strong case against the suspect, who was eventually convicted.
The Green River Killer
The Green River Killer was a serial killer who murdered at least 49 women in Washington state in the 1980s and 1990s. The case remained unsolved for decades, despite the efforts of multiple law enforcement agencies.
However, in 2001, investigators began using digital files to reexamine the case. A case from the 1980s was re-opened using digital imaging technology. With a new digital evidence management solution that included digital imaging capabilities, law enforcement officers could re-examine old photographs and uncover new details that had been missed before. By analyzing DNA evidence, investigators were able to identify a suspect, Gary Ridgway, who had previously been questioned but never charged. Ridgway eventually confessed to the murders and was sentenced to life in prison. The digital evidence management solution helped pinpoint all the types of evidence available to the criminal justice agency.
Cases Even Evidence Software Can’t Help Police Departments Solve
Unfortunately, there are still too many examples of cold cases that cannot be solved because evidentiary documents haven’t stood the test of time. This happens for a number of reasons, including
- Poor storage conditions, such as physical evidence stored in a damp or humid environment, cause deterioration over time. This is especially problematic for biological evidence like DNA, which breaks down over time and becomes unusable for testing.
- Break in the secure chain of custody for evidence may have been lost or mishandled over time, making it impossible to connect it to a suspect or use it to build a case. This can be especially challenging for older cases, where evidence may have been handled by multiple people over the years and the chain of custody may be difficult to establish.
- Passage of too much time. Witnesses may have died or moved away, suspects may have passed away, or the circumstances of the case may have simply faded from memory over time. In these cases, even the best evidence management software in the world may not be enough to bring closure to victims’ families.
While it is always disappointing when a cold case cannot be solved due to issues with evidence, it is important for police forces to continue to use the best available technology and techniques to re-examine old evidence and pursue new leads. Even in cases where the inventory of evidence is no longer usable, investigators may be able to find other ways to build a case and bring justice to victims’ families.
Benefits of Using Evidence Management Software
Evidence management technology providers offer many benefits to law enforcement officials to maintain evidence integrity and chain of custody documentation. Here are some of the most significant advantages:
- Evidence management software streamlines the process of managing evidence throughout the investigation process, making it more efficient and less time-consuming to look for leads. The software allows criminal investigations to track evidence from collection to storage to analysis, ensuring that nothing is lost or compromised.
- Evidence management software helps ensure that evidence is handled properly and not contaminated. This software can also help prevent human error by automating tasks such as evidence labeling and chain of custody tracking. Role-based access control guarantees user compliance.
- Evidence management software improves collaboration. Multiple investigators may work on the same case simultaneously within a centralized database via a cloud-based system, building a complete evidence inventory software.
How To Update an Evidence Management Unit
To transition a traditional evidence management unit to utilizing a faster evidence management technique, law enforcement organizations should take these 6 steps:
- Assess current processes: The first step in implementing a successful evidence management system is to assess the current processes and identify areas for improvement in handling various evidence types. This may involve reviewing existing documentation procedures, evaluating storage conditions for evidence, identifying chain of custody issues, and conducting an audit trail of all accesses to evidence.
- Choose the right software: There are many different digital evidence management software options available, and it is important to choose the right one for your agency’s needs. Some factors to consider include ease of use, compatibility with existing technology, and the ability to customize the system to meet your agency’s specific requirements. Of course, the law enforcement budget is a primary factor.
- Train staff: Once you have chosen an evidence management software system, it is important to plan for user administration and ensure that all staff members are properly trained on how to access user interface integrations. This may involve providing hands-on training sessions, creating user manuals or training videos, and offering ongoing support as needed.
- Digitize old records: To fully transition to a digital evidence management system, it is important to digitize all existing records, such as video surveillance, physical inventory, evidence requests, interview room video, body camera footage, audio recordings, handwritten documents, vehicle cameras, mobile devices data, and security camera footage. This may involve scanning paper documents, photographs, and other physical evidence and uploading them to the new system. It may also involve manually inputting data from old records into the new system.
- Ensure proper storage: Digital evidence still needs to be stored in a secure and controlled environment, and it is important to ensure that the new system is set up to provide adequate protection for all evidence.
- Monitor and maintain: Once the new system is in place, it is important to monitor it regularly to ensure that it is functioning properly and that all staff members are using it correctly. It may also be necessary to make updates or modifications over time to ensure that the system remains effective and up-to-date with the latest technology.
By following these steps, law enforcement organizations can transition from manual documentation to a safer and more accurate digital evidence management system that reduces chain of custody issues and documents all evidence types to be easily accessed and used to build cases against suspects.
With all evidence at your fingertips instantly during a criminal investigation, law enforcement personnel will build stronger cases and bring closure to more victims’ families–even after decades of uncertainty.