Secure Your Agency from Legal Obstacles and Public Scorn

How To Secure Your Agency From Legal Obstacles And Public Scorn?

Is your agency overwhelmed by the influx of both digital and physical evidence? Are you seeking a better way to organize, document, and manage your inventory?

Keeping up with almost insurmountable evidence can be daunting, and an inadequate management system only exacerbates the issue.

Redundant processes, excessive paper trails, inaccurate data, lost evidence, and compromised chain of custody can cause numerous issues, including risking case integrity, agency embarrassment, and even internal corruption.

In November 2019, it was revealed that dozens of deputies from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office failed to book evidence they collected and, in several cases falsified police reports by stating that the evidence had been entered.  One investigator kept evidence, including heroin and paraphernalia, locked in an office desk drawer.

The law enforcement evidence management function exists for an agency to receive, catalog, store, and maintain the integrity of evidence and property. This allows for effective prosecution as well as confirming innocence.

Even after disposition of a case, agencies have the legal obligation to restore property to rightful owners or facilitate the legal disposition of property in their possession.

The collection of both physical and digital evidence creates procedural demands to which law enforcement must strictly adhere.

Traditionally, all this information has been cataloged and stored in logbooks, paper documentation, file folders and evidence boxes using manual processes. However, manual documentation is time consuming, labor intensive, and prone to mishandling. Evidence also has a way of being misplaced—temporarily or permanently— which can result in acquittals or liability issues.

In 2019, a Walnut Creek officer mishandled evidence in dozens of cases. The first case in which a bag of Vicodin, glass pipes, suspected liquid heroine and syringes were found, the officer often held off on booking video or photos into evidence until a property technician reminded him. Investigators reviewed a total of 116 cases from 2015 and 2016 in which the officer handled video or photo evidence. Out of 116 cases, investigators found 31 in which the officer failed to book items into evidence.

Traditionally, a chain of custody records only how evidence is submitted, stored, and disposed of. These traditional records often lack any documentation about the process of evidence management itself, such as the security of evidence in custody, the quality of the facility and storage environments, and records of accountability.

This can weaken the defensibility of evidence in court, and the ability to utilize evidence to craft a clear timeline tied to the evidence crime becomes exceedingly difficult. When such questions arise, reasonable doubt is created, impacting the prosecution’s ability to clear cases in a timely manner.

Evidence is only as good as its chain of custody. In many cases, evidence mismanagement is the result of systemic problems behind processing, tracking, and storing of evidence.

This places extraordinarily strong requirements on the integrity of the chain of custody, the personnel involved, and the duty of care of the organization responsible.

For those in law enforcement, chain of custody can come to be regarded as a rudimentary concept. Cases of mishandled evidence are all too common.

Evidence room audits across the country continue to reveal instances of missing evidence resulting in the dismissal of criminal cases, and each case further erodes the public’s trust in law enforcement.

In 2022, it was revealed that the Fall River Police Department had lost two years of drug-case evidence, explaining that the controlled-buy logs for 2019 and 2020 had gone missing. The investigation began after an alarming volume of unsecured oxycodone, amphetamines, heroin, crack cocaine, and fentanyl were located in a detective’s desk. 

What is Evidence Management?

Evidence chain of custody is an essential, fundamental practice of our criminal justice system. It allows the state to verify the authenticity of evidence and prove that it has not been altered or damaged while in law enforcement custody, in any way that could disrupt a criminal case.

In 2017, a Novato, California Police Officer repeatedly lost or failed to book evidence such as body-worn camera recordings, photos, witness statements, and a voicemail threat made against a victim. This happened despite several instances when he stated in his reports that he had booked items into evidence.

Each agency has an obligation to store and protect evidence in its custody, and equally important, an obligation to legally dispose of the property. Best practices for the various aspects of the evidence and property function cannot be overstated.

Evidence management is a critical facet of the criminal justice system and one of the most important jobs in the entire police operation. At every stage, handlers of evidence must ensure that it has not been compromised, contaminated, or degraded and that its chain of custody is tracked.

A fired Orange County sheriff’s deputy plead guilty to a reduced charge of filing a false police report after he wrote that he booked evidence when he had not. An investigation revealed widespread failure of deputies to book evidence on time, if at all.

Using logbooks or spreadsheets to manage huge volumes of evidence is no longer justifiable. The proper management of evidence is so important to agencies, that formal standards for the management, administration, and handling of evidence are now an essential part of operations.

Chronological documentation of chain of custody begins with seizure and continues beyond its production in court until its retention by law enforcement ends.

An effective evidence management system can successfully thwart chain of custody challenges by third parties. Failure to apply proper standards to evidence processing can threaten the integrity of a case and trigger severe criticism of the agency.

In early 2020, the Salisbury Police Department released details about a civilian police department employee accused of stealing items from the department’s evidence facility. The employee had stolen $260,000 from an evidence storage facility.

An effective evidence management system not only documents evidence, but can bring together all the evidence data related to a specific case in an easily accessible repository. Policy-based controls ensures that only evidence data relevant to a specific case can be accessed by those authorized to do so.

What is Evidence Management Software?

Best Practices for evidence management include detailed documentation, automation, better accountability, and efficient workflows. Evidence management software can help implement and facilitate such practices.

Evidence Management software is a digital solution that is designed to easily manage the evidence management process in an accurate and timely manner. It keeps everything in a centralized database that streamlines the vital process of maintaining evidence.

This is done through automation of evidence-related tasks, including storing, editing, updating, viewing, analyzing, and sharing evidence and information easily.

Evidence Management ensures that law-enforcement and prosecutorial entities can get all the evidence they need, when they need it, to do their jobs effectively and in accordance with the law.

The digitizing of evidence also reduces the need to handle the original evidence until it is presented. This reduction of handling lessens the likelihood of deliberate tampering or accidental contamination and reduces chain of custody requirements.

An audit of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office covering three years found that 27% of the investigated deputies waited 31 days or longer before booking evidence. Nearly 300 items were not booked for more than a month during the audit period. A second review, which included a sampling of 450 reports, found that deputies in 57 cases said they had booked the evidence when they had not.

Improving the storage and documentation of evidence in custody is more important now than ever. Implementing a more rigorous chain of custody process will help ensure the integrity of evidence in any agency’s custody and improve outcomes of legal cases.

An evidence management system can effectively manage the investigative and forensic process with a complete audit trail of all physical and digital property and evidence from the point of capture, right through to court and final disposal.

Paper documentation and outdated software systems are becoming outdated. With modern technology and automation around every corner, agencies that maintain antiquated processes often find themselves in the headlines.

What to Look For?

Consider these features when deciding if your Physical and Digital Evidence Management Software enables you to meet the needs of modern policing:

  • Responsive and efficient, allowing you to work from anywhere and on any internet connected device.
  • Includes an integrated system with the chain of custody.
  • Site management of multiple sites allowing for managing separate physical inventory locations.
  • Custom-tailored dashboard to display important inventory statistics with info-boxes and customizable widgets to easily access detailed information about your evidence.
  • Intuitive and completely browser-based evidence solution that allows you to enter, view and edit records, print reports, barcode labels, and more via the web browser of your choice.
  • An automated review to send notifications when cases are up for review, making the review and disposal process faster and more efficient.
  • A professional, robust search function for any data in the system.
  • Report customization module to design your own reports or edit standard system reports such as Chain of Custody, Barcode Labels, Inventory Discrepancy Reports, and many more according to your needs.

Specific Solution

ERIN Technology’s ERIN7 is an end-to-end chain of custody software system for physical and digital evidence, providing fast and accurate data collection and control for evidence tracking and maintaining property, evidence, and inventory. We make the transition seamless and easy to use with consultation, implementation, training, and data integration.

Please contact us today to find out how your business can benefit from our services.

Benefits of mobile forensic tool

10 Ways Mobile Forensics Can Benefit Your Law Enforcement Agency

Cell phones are everywhere and they often contain information law enforcement professionals need to solve crimes.

People don’t do anything without their smartphones. When one shows up at a crime scene, you need to know how to use it for your investigation, and track all the actions completed for the chain of custody. 

Mobile forensics helps you use smartphones and other mobile devices to aprehend criminals or terrorists. Law enforcement once had to pound the pavement for hours to get information. The same information is often available on cell phones.

Don’t believe us? Check out these 10 ways cell phone forensics makes your job easier and faster. Proper use of mobile tools can mean the difference between life and death.

1. Mobile Forensics Tracks Victims

When you have a kidnapping by a non-custodial parent or runaway situation, time is of the essence. Every second that ticks by means your victim is in more danger. Before mobile phone forensics, police relied on information from friends and family, eye witness reports and credit card tracking.

These are still important tools, but GPS information on cell phones can help you find your victims much faster, or find out the location of your runaway without all the extra work.

Time is always against law enforcement. Cellular forensics can help turn the tide.

2. Find Out Their Timeline

When investigating a case, knowing the previous locations of a victim or suspect is vital. If a suspect’s alibi relies on him being at a certain place at a certain time, then using mobile phone data can determine if he’s telling the truth.

To determine the timeline of a victim’s last night, cell phone pings can paint a picture of their last night or week. Mobile forensic tools can create a road map that you can use in your investigation, and keep track of all that has happened to a phone for the chain of custody record.

3. Find Out Who People Talked Too

Cell phone records are invaluable to modern criminal investigations. With proper court documents, you can get a list of phone records, texts and more to help with your investigation.

They help support your investigative theories. It clears a person of interest or helps determine the perpetrator of the crime. You can find out who was the last person the victim talked to or verify the suspect talked to the victim before the crime.

Law enforcement officers use cell phone records routinely. They are an important part of clearing suspects and closing cases.

4. Gather Evidence from Cell Phones

People use cell phones for everything. In fact, 3/4 of adults own a cell phone and they look up information on Google and store pictures on them. They are a treasure trove of potential evidence.

Law enforcement officers have discovered suspects often look up where to find ropes, duct tape, etc., on their phone before a kidnapping.

People don’t realize how important cell phones can be in a criminal case. They make mistakes and assume that no one will find out.

Pictures tell you who their friends are, places they visit and much more. There are apps for everything. Investigators find amazing evidence from the contents of a cell phone.

5. Find Out Criminal Activity from Cell Phones

Cell phones are miniature computers. They have processing power and capabilities far beyond checking Facebook and snapping selfies. Criminals can use them for identity theft, illegal surveillance, and many more crimes.

If a forensic scientist gets a cell phone, they use it to find out if it has been used for crimes.

They can dig into the data and discover hidden information the criminal tried to hide or delete. Cell phones are important for investigations and must be tracked with the chain of custody just like any other evidence item.

6. Paint a Picture with Cell Phone Images

When a criminal act happens in a large area, people take pictures and videos as it happens, and before. It could be a fight in an alley or a bombing of a public place.

Many high-profile bombing cases used cell phone images and videos to create a picture of what happened. They see where people were, any unusual activity or items and much more. It’s a way to recreate an event even though you weren’t there at the time.

7. Criminals Post Incriminating Evidence Using Cell Phones

Cell phones and social media go hand in hand. Millions of people use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and more every day. Most people post mundane activities or funny memes. Criminals often use it to brag about their crimes.

They assume no one will see it, but police use these posts in criminal proceedings. They take cell phone videos using firearms, drugs and showing off their loot.

Cell phones are small, unlike traditional video cameras. It’s easy to take it out and make a short video that puts them in prison.

8. Get Leads with Text-A-Tip

It’s not always easy for people to talk to the police. Face-to-face and phone conversations intimidate people. Police need tips from the public to solve cases and text-a-tip programs help make it more discreet.

In today’s digital culture, texting is easier than talking. Police receive tips from cell phone text messages that help solve cases. They send confidential and anonymous texts to police and avoid meeting or talking to people.

9. Increased Crime Reporting

Before cell phones, people needed to find a phone to report a crime. They walked several blocks to find a phone, left the victim alone and other issues that hampered the investigation.

Now, cell phones let them report crimes as they happen anywhere in the world. Someone gets attacked in a rural cornfield. If they call 911, they can get their location and send help.

People record crimes as they happen. They take pictures of license plates and more.

10. Saves Time and Effort

When you’re in the field, time is of the essence. No matter what the crime, the longer it takes to solve, the colder the trails gets. What used to take hours of manual police work may now take only minutes.

Mobile phone forensics speeds up the investigation process. Instead of spending hours asking witnesses about someone’s whereabouts, you know it from cell phone records. Track people in real time instead of hours after they’ve gone.

Never Underestimate the Power of Cell Phones

Mobile forensics is growing in use and scope for investigations. Software developed to crack cell phones, examine data and track people get used daily by law enforcement in large cities and small rural communities.

If you’re interested in learning more about cell phone forensics and tracking, or law enforcement technology, feel free to explore our site.