This guide provides an overview of digital evidence storage in a cloud-based system.
The #1 job of evidence management technology is to facilitate the automation of tracking and access to evidence in law enforcement agencies or federal agencies. According to Research.com, over 90% of public safety agencies agree that having a centralized evidence database is essential to gain insights and model processes, people, and assets.
Evidence management is critical to the outcome of criminal prosecutions. If it fails at any stage of collection, storage, tracking, or retrieving, then it can compromise the outcome of a prosecution.
Law enforcement officers need a cloud service provider to create an efficient evidence management system for audio files, body camera footage, digital paper files, compliance and security protocols and third-party evidence. Your digital evidence management solution will have a long lifespan. Before selecting a cloud solution provider for your police department, consider these 5 critical factors.
- Features and functionality. Know the types or categories of physical and digital evidence that will be collected, stored, analyzed, and reported on as required to meet typical law enforcement agencies’ needs. You want the capacity to share digital evidence assets with other law enforcement officials or agency personnel that meet security guidelines. And you want a way to make electronic copies and backup copies if your system should go down.
- Scalability. The system must be able to support growth in agency personnel, accommodate a variety of evidence typically handled by law enforcement, and manage the current volume of digital assets while being able to handle any increased collection in the future. In addition, to ensure a seamless flow of evidence management processes between law enforcement agencies, your digital evidence management system should be able to communicate with other client agencies. This includes the ability to seamlessly exchange data with other cloud services or legacy systems already in place at the organization or across different government entities such as federal agencies.
- Integration: The system must be compatible with other tools and systems, such as a centralized database or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, that law enforcement officials are currently using to ensure seamless integration. Additionally, the digital evidence management system should be easy to connect to the police department’s other technologies. It is important to have an accurate assessment of which systems must be connected in order to create an effective workflow for managing digital evidence. Additionally, organizations should ensure that their systems are adequately secured so that unauthorized access to the data is prevented.
- Data Integrity and Security. The evidence software must have security features to protect physical evidence, with tamper-proof and chain-of-custody documentation and tracking. It must be adequately secured in a cloud environment, in accordance with the requirements of Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) baseline security controls, as described by NIST SP 800-53 guidelines for Information Systems and Organizations.
- Cost: The total cost of ownership for evidence inventory software must include hardware, software, support, automatic audit trails, authorized user role assignments, and access level. Compare each vendor’s features and benefits to each one of the types of evidence you may document to ensure that law enforcement personnel and the agency get the best value for their investment.
By considering these factors in detail, an organization can make an informed decision about which digital evidence management software is the best fit.
Choosing the Right DEMS Provider
When selecting a vendor, it is important to consider the reliability and consistency of their support and frequency of updates. This is part of the success formula that leads to long-term ROI and agency success.
The cloud solution should be able to track and inventory digital and physical evidence to ensure proper documentation and organization of all evidence. As the number of cases and user role assignments increases, the cloud service provider must be able to handle increased evidence requests without experiencing performance issues.
Future Proofing Automation of Evidence Management
When organizations handle sensitive information, data must be protected from unauthorized access, alteration, and theft. Evidence managers must maintain a tamper-proof chain of custody, ensuring that evidence remains secure and can be used in court if necessary.
The best DEMS solution contains security features such as encryption and access controls. For example, encryption ensures that even if unauthorized users gain access to the data, they will not be able to read or understand it. Access controls restrict who has access to the data and what they can do with it, including the changing of user authentication and permissions. Tracking and auditing features, with logging and reporting help agencies detect and respond to any security incidents.
When developing an evidence management system, plan to “future proof” for the long term. This includes preparing to incorporate new technologies, such as body-worn cameras and license plate readers, and adapting to changing regulations or laws.
One essential factor to consider when comparing systems is the software’s ease of use. It should be intuitive and include a user-friendly interface and easy navigation, ensuring it is easy to find the information you need and quickly complete tasks. Ask your technology partner what features other law enforcement officials are requesting.
Software Designed for Police, not the IT Department
Preparing Users for Their New DEMS System
Ideally, your digital evidence management system must integrate seamlessly with other software the organization uses, such as existing case management or records management systems, databases, document management systems, and other software tools. A 360-view and access to all your data and workflows improves efficiency, reduces errors, and enhances the overall accuracy of information.
When evaluating DEMS, make a list of:
- Other types of systems that should integrate with the evidence management system. Consider reviewing pieces of evidence in your last 10 active cases (including evidence like mobile devices, radio logs, digital files, video surveillance, handwritten documents, and other inventory of evidence collected).
- The type of integration you require vs. what is offered, such as basic data import/transfer or more advanced features like bi-directional syncing.
- The adaptability of each active user, the kind of integration each will need, and how much documentation and support each one will require
- Each user’s current and future needs. For example, if a company plans to order a new case management system, be sure it can be integrated with your DEMS system.
- Additional costs associated with custom integration.
Training is an essential component of preparing users for their new digital evidence management system. Proper training makes users aware of the features and capabilities of the system so they use it with confidence. It also helps them understand the potential risks associated with the misuse of digital evidence assets, such as data breaches or unauthorized access.
Digital evidence management solution providers typically provide detailed user guides as well as tutorials to demonstrate how to correctly use the system. Organizations may opt to provide more in-depth training sessions with experienced software trainers who can answer questions and provide additional guidance on best practices. Such training should cover topics such as effective data management, secure storage methods, and other aspects related to utilizing evidence management systems. By providing comprehensive training for law enforcement personnel, organizations can kick off a heightened user adoption cementing a rapid ROI on the new DEMS system.
Part of evaluating your solution provider should be reviewing how thorough its user manuals, tutorials, and online help is to ensure all active users can quickly and easily learn how to use the system or have ready access to support when encountering issues.
In addition to training, support is an important factor in successful digital evidence management. Effective management of physical and digital evidence requires robust support and assistance from the software provider. Organizations must have access to reliable technical assistance to ensure that the system remains functional and secure. Vendors should be available to address any technical issues that may arise during the setup or use of the system, while users should also be able to contact a resource for help with navigating the software. Additionally, technology partners should provide support services for evidence requests or other questions related to digital evidence.
Many technology partners offer different levels of support, such as basic technical support or advanced consulting services. As a result, the cost of support services can vary significantly between different systems and should be factored into the overall cost when comparing options. Law enforcement budgets are not open-ended, but budgeting for help when you need it is what gives law enforcement organizations their highest ROI on their digital evidence management systems.
When selecting a vendor, consider what kind of customization you require:
- How much customization comes with the system and how much more will you need to customize the user interface, add custom fields, and integrate with other cloud systems?
- How easy will it be to customize, including whether technical expertise is required or if the system has a user-friendly interface? For example, can you customize field names with identifiers known to the department? Can you print reports you need?
- How much will customization cost? Confirm how much is included in the standard package or if additional charges apply.
- How much customization support does your vendor offer and what is their availability to adapt the system to your existing processes?
The vendor’s reputation and industry experience are key considerations when comparing evidence management software systems. This includes factors such as the length of time the vendor has been in business and the size and diversity of their customer base. How familiar are they with the agency’s investigative process, common evidence types, and the volume of digital assets collected?
When assessing evidence management software solutions, consider the total cost of ownership, which encompasses not only the initial cost of the software but also any additional costs for customization, integration, and support services. This includes digital evidence documentation, inventory, tracking, physical evidence documentation, inventory, and monitoring. There is typically a “law enforcement budget,” but there is always give and take when working with a technology partner.
Organizations should also consider factors such as the number of users and the storage required. In addition, some systems offer a one-time purchase option with a yearly maintenance fee, while others require a subscription or ongoing licensing payment. Finally, the buyer must factor in any additional costs for customization or integration with other systems, including costs associated with integrating the system with existing databases or other software, as well as the cost of tailoring the system to meet specific requirements or needs.
Your evidence management software should never hold you back from protecting public safety, solving cases, serving justice–or wondering if there was a break in the chain of evidence. See the latest technology for preserving evidence integrity by scheduling a 30-minute demo with ERIN Technology’s ERIN7.
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