By Robin, Lisa; Smith, Tim
Law & Order , Vol. 52, No. 5
One of the biggest problems facing crime scene investigators and forensic laboratory technicians has always been the inaccurate and time-consuming process of collecting, tracking and inventorying crime scene evidence in a manual, largely paper-based system. The Lake County, IL, Sheriff's Office (LCSO) uses an automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) system based on bar code technology to manage its custodial property.
The LCSO's evidence facility typically receives two kinds of property- evidence to be used in criminal investigations and subsequent court trial, and recovered property, such as lost-and-found items, victims' personal effects, and stolen goods. Once such property is received, it must be entered into the department's computerized system to identify what it is and how it got there.
Prior to installing its system, the LCSO followed traditional evidence and property management procedures, which had become the de facto standard in the crime-fighting community. After sealing the item in an evidence bag, an officer would fill out a handwritten form and submit the property into the custody of the property control area. The form included such detailed information as the case number (which coincides with the written report the officer files), nature of the incident, the location, time and dale the property was taken into custody, name of the officer, name(s) of the victim(s), and, if applicable, the suspect(s).
The officer also provided an identifying number to sequentially record each individual item recovered, no matter how many items were collected from a particular incident. Finally, a brief description of each item had to be written. Besides being time-intensive-since a separate form had to be completed for each item- the information on the form was only as valid as the legibility of the officer's handwriting. After completion of all forms, the information would then be manually entered in the computer system- a tedious data entry process also prone to inaccuracy.
To further complicate matters, each time an item of evidence was moved in or out of storage- to the lab or courtroom, for example, or even between officers- that transfer of custody had to be manually entered into a ledger. someone looking to track a particular item had to be sure to search both the ledger and the computer system- and hope that all movements had been recorded accurately, completely and in a timely manner.
According to Sr. Property Officer, Lisa Robin, who is responsible for property control at LCSO, this manual property log-in and tracking process had become increasingly cumbersome and was robbing time and manpower away from the department's primary mission.
The LCSO processes millions of dollars in drugs, money and property each year. It was a huge job to log, track and manage all the items in the property control system. They have more than 300 officers on duty and a major crime scene might involve up to 200 pieces of evidence. The LCSO began looking for an easier and more efficient way to meet its property management challenges.
Technology and the B.E.A.S.T.
Early in the search process, Officer Robin and the LCSO connected with Porter Lee Corp. (Schaumburg, IL), a firm specializing in the design of integrated evidence tracking and laboratory management systems for law enforcement agencies and crime labs nationwide. The company demonstrated to LCSO decisionmakers how its software-driven AIDC system, based on bar code and mobile technology, could dramatically improve the way in which evidence and recovered property is recorded, tracked and stored throughout its entire lifecycle.
Porter Lee calls its solution the Crime Fighter B.E.A.S.T. (Bar Coded Evidence Analysis Statistics and Tracking) property room evidence management system. At the core of the system is bar code technology that enables evidence data to be automatically recorded into the system rather than handwriting the required information onto a paper form and manually entering it into a system, which often was error-prone, inaccurate and time consuming. …