10 Things Your RMS Won’t Do for Evidence Management
August 10, 2021
In this evidence management webinar Ben Townsend, the founder and CEO of Tracker Products, discusses the limitations of using an RMS for evidence management. Quality evidence management systems integrate and automate the full spectrum of physical and digital evidence management processes, from submission, documentation, and labeling at intake through final approval and recording of disposition.
Ben began the discussion by saying, “Today’s topic… we’re going to dig into 10 things that your RMS will not do. This is based on an article that we wrote a while ago, titled Just Use the RMS system. This is something we often hear in the evidence world. I feel for clients of ours that call me to say their agency has made the decision that going forward: We don’t want to spend the money on an evidence management system. We just want you to use the RMS system. So, the purpose of this webinar today – and the purpose of the article that was written – is to help you combat the awful decision to Just Use the RMS system.
My goal here today is to give you some things that will help you make the case for why a specific evidence management system is so crucial to your operation. This video is on YouTube, so if you’re ever facing resistance you can just send this webinar link along and say, Hey, here’s a really good video that I would like you to watch to help dig into why we would, or would not, make that decision.
So, I have a list of 10 things that I want to present to you. I don’t suggest that they’re in any particular order of importance. These are 10 things that I thought were really important to consider.
Number Ten: Your RMS System Will Not Do LIMS
You may be thinking, What the heck is the LIMS laboratory information management system? What does it have to do with evidence management? And why am I making that argument?
There is not a single lab, as far as I know, anywhere in the entire United States that is using an RMS system as a LIMS system or pseudo LIMS system. A lab does testing, they take in evidence in, and they’re doing all sorts of critical analysis on evidence. There is not a single lab using an RMS system because LIMS systems are specialized software products that focus on the needs of a lab and they have all types of functions that an RMS would never do or even try to replicate.
Think about your ballistics department. I mean, these are highly specialized units within your department. Do they use the RMS system for ballistics or latent print testing? The answer to that is no. So the question becomes, Why is it that evidence rooms are not considered specialized areas of the department with specialized needs?
Inevitably the number one factor that goes into ‘Just Use the RMS system’ is generally the cost. They’ve decided based on, I’ve got a free option over here versus a paid option. I like the free option better. If that’s the only criteria.. it really hampers your operations.
I have a hilarious thought… If costs were the only factor, wouldn’t it affect the decision to buy cheaper automobiles for a department? Why not just buy cheap cars that get a hundred miles to the gallon, but may only go 40 miles an hour? The answer to that is… that choice doesn’t serve the purpose.
So why is it, in the evidence world, that they just toss people into an RMS system and say, Hey, this is good enough. Just use this. It’s generally because they don’t believe that the evidence room is a specialized area of the department. Many times it’s in the basement, it’s in the back, it’s out of sight. So, all of a sudden it doesn’t matter… until it becomes a problem.
Number nine: Your RMS System Does Not Focus on Evidence
As a matter of fact, we’ve integrated with many RMS vendors out there. And, I’ve had some really good conversations with a lot of RMS vendors. They will tell me on the phone, We don’t do evidence. That’s not our core competency. We’re not going to make that a core competency.
I have even had RMS vendors on the phone; there’ll be a conference call with three parties: Me representing Tracker’s Evidence Management System (EMS), the RMS vendor, and the agency. The RMS vendors argue on behalf of going with a product like ours because they don’t focus on evidence management.
Most RMS vendors will say, If you just need the basics, then our product will do that. So, my question becomes, What do they mean by the basics? It means the absolute bare bones… it does chain of custody. It allows you to create storage locations, and they may call that Evidence Management. But that is not evidence management by any stretch of the imagination.
Number Eight: Your RMS System Will Lack Pertinent Data About Evidence
What do I mean by that? The basic package of the RMS system will lack critical data components when you’re collecting information on guns, drugs, and money; unless they allow you to customize their product to a great degree. But, many of them don’t. In that case, you have to figure out what all the pertinent data collection fields should be.
In our system, when you enter a drug, we’re getting a lot of information about… the packaging type, the number of pills, the grams. We’re getting into the weeds with all of this stuff. And, that’s just drugs. We also get into currency, firearms, and some of the other specialized things that you deal with. So, lacking that pertinent data, as you’re going to see here in a minute, begins to really create a problem.
Number Seven: Barcodes With No Scanning Capabilities
There are RMS systems out there that will allow you to generate barcode labels, but they have no scanning capabilities. That is an insane concept… a software product that generates a barcode that means nothing? Do you know why they do that? Because it looks like you’re doing something. You expect to see barcodes on evidence. It looks good when somebody comes into the room and they think that you’re on top of your game because they see a barcode.
Barcodes are essential for processing large amounts of evidence. You use that information to move evidence in and out with accuracy. And, if you’re not doing barcode scanning, you’re bringing in all sorts of potential heinous situations.
Number Six: Mobile Capabilities
By the way, I’m not speaking about every RMS vendor in the country. There are probably a thousand of them out there. For each of my 10 scenarios, I would suggest they are probably generally true, but not absolutely in every case.
All right. Moving into number six, your RMS system does not have mobile capabilities. RMS certainly does not have iOS and Android mobile apps for evidence entry. Historically, older RMS systems have been on-premise applications. They’re installed in your building. They run inside your building. You certainly have access to them from computers that are connected to your building. But, mobile applications? RMS vendors are really behind on that.
The reason I say they’re behind is because most of them are still not even in a cloud model. They are certainly moving in that direction, and a lot of them are there, but the mobile apps tend to lag way behind getting into the cloud. The reason that I believe mobile capability is so critically important is because many operations out there do not begin the chain of custody until the officer, or the person collecting evidence, is back in the police department. And, in some cases, there may be multiple days after the evidence is collected until they return to headquarters.
The reason mobile capabilities are so important is because we believe that you should be entering information about the evidence – even pictures about evidence – before you even touch the evidence. We want that record of collection. We want that chain of custody to be the moment you lay your eyes on the evidence. So, having mobile apps that allow you to enter evidence out into the field, and take pictures, it’s going to cut down on all of those potential problems of: Hey, something was lost in transit. Something got left in somebody’s trunk. Something went wrong.
There are even crazier scenarios, where evidence is collected by Officer A and it is handed to Officer B. He transfers it back to the evidence department for entry into the system. How many many people have touched that evidence before a record of that collection is entered? If you want to introduce doubt and all sorts of possible problems, have multiple hands touching it. Multiple people transporting it before it’s ever entered into the software is a recipe for a nightmare.
Number Five: Customization
The number five thing your RMS system most likely will not have is a high level of customization, especially when it comes to the evidence data collected. What I mean by customization is, I can build data collection fields on the fly. As a matter of fact, I can build workflow customization. Let’s just say that I live in California and all of a sudden there’s a string of surfboards being stolen all over the state. And, the Chief makes the mandate: When we enter information about surfboards, we really need to get particular about each surfboard.
I’m in Kentucky. I don’t know anything about surfboards. So, I’m going to show my complete ignorance. I’ll assume that there are longer ones and they’re skinnier ones. If it’s a longer one, I may ask questions like, Does it have a particular graphic? What are the colors? Who’s the manufacturer? You may be thinking, Why in the world would we ever collect that information?
That may be important to them. And, it may only be important to one agency, but the point is they have the ability in our product to go in and set up data collection fields that says, Hey, this is a surfboard. Answer these questions.
That becomes unbelievably important, in a few minutes when I get into disposition, because I believe the reason disposition does not take place for a lot of departments is, they simply don’t know what they have. And, even if they do know what they have, they don’t have a lot of granular details about the evidence.
So, what I’m suggesting to you, especially on a system that has barcodes and doesn’t have scanning, I’m going to assume that whatever data collection capabilities they have, that’s what your data collection capabilities are. You have no ability to move inside or outside of whatever that framework is. And that becomes really important, especially as I continue this conversation.
Number Four: Critical Reporting
I would suggest most RMS systems do not have critical reporting capabilities. And here’s what I mean by that. We have a really good relationship with the Evidence Management Institute and they do auditing. An agency will bring them in and say, We want you to audit our evidence process. And so one of the things that Shawn Henderson, who runs the Evidence Management Institute, will do is send out a document that asks them a lot of questions. And I mean, a LOT of questions. Like: How much evidence do you have? How many items have you disposed of in the last year or three years? What is your intake versus your outgo? How much drug evidence do you have? What percentage of the drug evidence was incinerated?
How many of you, if I asked those questions, would be able to answer them? Most of you would be like: I wouldn’t even begin to know how to do it. I can go back and ask the vendor.
My point is if you have a high level of customization, and you are able to do critical reporting, you can have dashboards – like what we have in our software – that will give you those critical details. Because again, the end-game is actually getting rid of evidence. Step number one is knowing what you have to begin with.
Clients of ours that have very high levels of disposition – and I’m talking about 80% disposition levels. That means over a 10 year period of time, eight out of every 10 items that have been brought in the door are already gone. People that are operating at that level, this critical reporting, they are all over it.
They know exactly what’s in their room. They almost take personal offense to anything being left in their room a day longer than what is required by law. I mean, they are all over it and it starts with critical data reporting and the ability to extract whatever data that you need to know.
So, going back to my surfboard example… if all of a sudden there’s a bunch of surfboards coming into the evidence room and your policy is, Hey, listen, found property, lost property stolen property; you have to keep it for a year. Surfboards take up a lot of room. So, you’re going to want to know the minute those surfboards are past a year. We want those things out of there. They’re taking up valuable space.
You need to be able to customize your system to collect the surfboard data. Then, you need the critical data component in order to extract all of that out. How many surfboards do I have? How long have we had them? That’s going to help you move that evidence along.
Generally, I don’t see a lot of RMS systems that allow you to do high level, critical reporting. By the way, that’s just using eight specific data points (in the image above). If you looked at our dashboard, there would be hundreds of data points. We would get into drugs and currency and money. You guys should know all of those details.
You should be able to go home at night and just run them through your mind. Okay. We brought in 200 new items today and we got rid of 150. You shouldn’t be losing sleep at night about what’s in your room and your lack of knowledge about what it is.
All right, moving on. Now, we’re starting to get down into some of what I would call the critical components that are specific to evidence management systems.
Number Three: Evidence Workflow
When I say workflow, I mean a system that allows you to send out text-based messages if certain things occur. For example, we have clients – evidence administrators – who every time a sex assault kit is entered into evidence, they want to get a text message to notify them.
When you talk about critical evidence, sex assault kits are really high on that list. There are people that are counting on us to properly process them. So, when you get a system like ours, you’re going to have that workflow built into it.
Here’s an example on the right side of my screen (in the image above), which is a text based alert that went out based on the category of an item being changed. For example, you know some of the other scenarios here; an obvious one is sexual assault kits. But, what about every time currency is manipulated? And, what if you only wanted to be alerted when currency greater than a hundred dollars is manipulated? Because again, if currency is being manipulated, isn’t that something you think you would want to know about?
You could run a report later that shows all the evidence manipulated. Yes, most systems are going to do that. But, I’m talking about getting a text alert on your phone the minute a change occurs. That’s something that’s not common in evidence management applications, but it is something that’s included in our product. And, certainly something that you should be looking at when you consider dealing with evidence.
Number Two: Tasking
One of the most critical components that your RMS system is not going to have…. Tasking; communicating with other people about evidence. My guess is that a basic RMS system is going to allow you to generate paper-based reports. For example, when it’s time to dispose of large amounts of evidence, I’ve seen a lot of systems where you can generate paper based reports.
The report would be separated by the responsible officer. We have clients using legacy systems. They’re coming out of that into our system, but their old system will print out paper based reports. So, at the end of every month, they’ll print out these pieces of paper. They’ll go to their mailboxes of the department and they’ll put these pieces of paper or sometimes they’re larger stacks in each of the officer’s mailbox. The idea is at some point, they’re going to respond to all of that paper and come back to you and tell you what to do with all of that evidence.
Guess how many people actually respond to that? It’s a very, very low number. In fact, generally it just doesn’t happen. Then, the evidence administrator gets frustrated. The whole system falls apart. All of a sudden, nobody is communicating when it comes to evidence.
How you communicate with people when it comes to evidence is paramount in an evidence management system. You should be communicating electronically, so that when something does go wrong, or doubt is introduced… Imagine in your world today, an officer calls you on the phone and says, Hey, I’m looking for some evidence and you look it up in your system and you find out you disposed of it two years ago.
Your note in the system says, He told you to dispose of it. Now, all of a sudden you’re into a bit of a power struggle with the officer because you’ve got a note that says, He said to get rid of it. Assume that his response is, When did I tell you that? Where’s the email? where’s the signed document that told you to go ahead and do that?
Now, all of a sudden, you’re digging through old emails frantically, or you’re digging through old paperwork that would have something written on it and now you can’t find it. Have you ever tried to dig for an email from five years ago or 10 years ago? It doesn’t exist.
As a matter of fact, many agencies, after a period of time, will archive all of that information. Information, in the evidence world, that never goes stagnant. We never have a statute of limitations on records being kept as far as, When did I dispose of that evidence? Somebody’s not going to be like, Well, it happened 20 years ago. Where’s your proof? But, certainly something from a couple of years ago is very valid.
In a system like ours, ALL communication – whether it’s, I need to pick up evidence to go to court – if you need something done, you’re going to generate a task in the software. That way there’s always a record of the tasks that took place for every piece of evidence.
Agencies that are using tasking within our system don’t have the problem of people not responding, because they’ve been trained on how to do tasking and all of the communication takes place within the software.
Number One: Auto Disposition
Why is auto disposition the most important feature that you would want in any evidence management system? And how will it help you dispose of evidence?
Most evidence administrators would say that the number one problem they deal with is evidence disposition. I’ve not seen one RMS system that even begins to address the technical process of getting rid of evidence. When you don’t have any sort of automated process in place, you have a disaster on your hands. Our software addresses the process of bringing officers into the disposition by using critical reporting to automate evidence disposal via tasks.
If you were to look at a hundred of our clients that have implemented our product – out of the hundreds of hundreds that have implemented it – the number one difference between those that are using our product to a high level, and those that are not, is whether or not they are utilizing the auto disposition feature.
In the image above, this is an agency using our software. If you look at the green line in that graph, you can see that in any given month, they’re bringing in about 16 to 1700 pieces of evidence. The blue line represents the amount of evidence they’re disposing of every month. As you can see, most months they are getting rid of more evidence than they’re bringing in. The only reason they’re pulling that off is because they’re using the auto dispo feature of the product.
If I were to show you 100 graphs from 100 of our clients, if you look at clients that consistently have blue lines above the green lines, they’re using auto disposition. More often than not, they’re green line is higher than the blue line, because automating that process takes a bit of effort.
Auto-disposition is not just a switch you flip. It takes a consistent effort of keeping on top of it and making sure that it’s a well-oiled machine. But when you implement it, it’ll change your life. I’m telling you it’ll change it in incredible ways. You will go from not disposing evidence, or disposing low amounts, to where you are consistently disposing of more than you bring in.
All right. I have one bonus topic that I want to bring up. This is not in the top 10, but it’s something that I think is of critical importance: Support.
When you need support, or when you need help, can you imagine calling your RMS vendor and getting them to help you with setting up your evidence room or making suggestions about the best and most compliant way to do things? You are absolutely not going to get that with your RMS vendor. If you go with our product, or you already have our product, you understand when there’s a problem, or something has been lost, and you pick up the phone to call somebody at Tracker, most likely the person you talk to has run an evidence room before.
Some of our employees worked as evidence administrators at police departments. We tend to hire those types of people because they’ve got a lot of experience in how to manage evidence. So, we’re able to dig into really specific issues that you may be dealing with because we implement evidence management systems all around the country.
Your RMS vendor is just one piece of a thousand different things they do, and they themselves will admit it. They don’t do it very well. They just do the basics. So, I hope whoever’s reading this message, whether it be today or down the road, if you are in a position where you’re making a decision about whether or not to ‘Just get an RMS system’ or go with an evidence management product, like what we have, I want you to know that the evidence administrator and the evidence division is not just a basic operation.
You will find their value when something goes wrong. Also, if you don’t have an effective evidence management system, it may force your department to buy extra, expensive evidence storage space to deal with an overwhelming amount of evidence that’s being brought in and not dealt with.
I think getting a specific evidence management system, like a LIMS system, like a ballistics system, like a latent print system, is simply something that is a part of what you do and should be supported as if it’s a specialized area of the police department.”
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