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Evidence Management Software: What Sets SAFE Apart from a RMS

May 16, 2024

In the ever-changing environment of law enforcement, efficient evidence management is a cornerstone of effective investigations and legal proceedings. As agencies grapple with the complexities of modern crime, the distinction between traditional Records Management Systems (RMS) and SAFE’s specialized Evidence Management Software (EMS) becomes increasingly apparent.

While RMS systems serve as foundational tools for administrative record-keeping, they often fall short of providing the depth and specificity required for comprehensive evidence management. Below, we’ll dive into the distinctive features and capabilities that set Evidence Management Software apart from RMSs, illuminating how EMS’s specialized solutions address the unique challenges posed by digital and physical evidence in the current law enforcement environment.

Let’s take a look at the features and capabilities that set SAFE’s Evidence Management Software apart from RMS:

Dedicated Evidence Tracking

While RMS systems may have some functionality for evidence management, they often lack the depth and specificity required for comprehensive tracking. Evidence Management Software provides dedicated areas designed specifically for the tracking of evidence from collection to disposition, ensuring chain of custody integrity and accountability at every stage.

Ben Townsend – The founder and CEO of Tracker Products – shared his thoughts about this topic (and others) during a webinar called – 10 Things Your RMS Won’t Do for Evidence Management. Scattered throughout are some excerpts…  

“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. And, 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. An RMS doesn’t do 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.” 

Digital Evidence Management

In today’s digital age, law enforcement agencies increasingly deal with digital evidence such as videos, photos, and documents. Unlike RMS, Evidence Management Software offers robust support for the ingestion, storage, and management of digital evidence in various formats, including video surveillance footage, forensic images, and social media data.

Evidence Management

The exponential growth of digital evidence in law enforcement has outpaced the capabilities of traditional RMS (Records Management Systems). RMS systems, designed primarily for managing administrative records, struggle to efficiently handle the vast array of digital evidence formats and volumes collected in modern investigations.

Enter Evidence Management software. Tailored specifically to address the complexities of digital evidence, these platforms offer comprehensive solutions for the storage, organization, analysis, and sharing of diverse digital materials. With features like advanced metadata tagging, secure storage, chain of custody tracking, and integration with forensic tools, Evidence Management software empowers law enforcement agencies to effectively manage, analyze, and utilize digital evidence in investigations and legal proceedings.

By leveraging Evidence Management software, agencies can streamline workflows, enhance collaboration, maintain data integrity, and ensure compliance with legal requirements. In an environment where digital evidence plays an increasingly crucial role in solving crimes, investing in specialized software solutions is essential for law enforcement agencies to stay ahead of the curve and effectively navigate the complexities of the digital age.

Evidence Chain of Custody Documentation

While RMS systems may record basic information about evidence, they often lack comprehensive chain of custody documentation capabilities. Evidence Management Software enables agencies to maintain detailed records of every individual who handles evidence, along with timestamps and digital signatures, ensuring the integrity of the evidence trail and facilitating compliance with legal requirements.

Advanced Search and Retrieval

RMS systems typically offer basic search functionality for retrieving records and case information. In contrast, Evidence Management Software employs advanced search algorithms and metadata tagging to enable rapid retrieval of evidence based on various criteria such as case number, type of evidence, custodian, or keywords contained within digital files.

Evidence Audit Trail

Ensuring transparency and accountability in evidence management is critical for maintaining public trust and meeting legal standards. Evidence Management Software automatically generates comprehensive audit trails that track every action performed on each piece of evidence, including uploads, downloads, edits, and access permissions changes, providing a complete history of evidence handling for audit and review purposes.

Evidence Destruction and Retention Management

Proper management of evidence retention and disposal is essential for compliance with legal regulations and organizational policies. Evidence Management Software offers configurable retention schedules and automated workflows for the timely destruction or archiving of evidence according to established guidelines, reducing the risk of data breaches and ensuring regulatory compliance.

Mobile Evidence Collection

With the increasing need for field-based evidence collection, especially in situations such as traffic stops or crime scene investigations, mobile functionality is indispensable. Evidence Management Software often includes mobile applications that enable officers to capture digital evidence directly from smartphones or tablets, ensuring timely documentation and preservation of critical information.

Evidence Management

Ben’s thoughts about this topic:

Your RMS system does not have mobile capabilities, and it certainly doesn’t have iOS and Android mobile apps for evidence entry. Historically, older RMS systems have been on-premise applications. They’re installed in your building, and you have access to them from computers connected to your building. But mobile applications? RMS vendors are really behind on that. 

I believe mobile capability is critically important because many operations do not begin the chain of custody until the officer or the person collecting evidence is back in the police department. In some cases, it may be multiple days after the evidence is collected until they return to headquarters.”

Automated Alerts

Evidence Management Software can be programmed to send automated alerts and notifications to designated personnel based on predefined triggers or events, such as evidence nearing its retention deadline, unauthorized access attempts, or changes to evidence status. These alerts ensure timely action and proactive management of evidence workflows, enhancing overall efficiency and compliance.

Ben’s thoughts about this topic:

“One of the most critical components that your RMS system will not have is 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 many systems where you can generate stacks of paper-based reports and then assign the tasks to the responsible officer.

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. In a system like our SAFE technology, ALL communication – whether it’s I need to pick up evidence to go to court, or something else. 

If you need something done, you will 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.”

Automated Disposition

EMS solutions offer automated disposition workflows that streamline the process of disposing of evidence once its retention period has expired or the case has been closed. By automatically identifying and flagging evidence eligible for disposition and guiding users through the necessary approval and documentation steps, these workflows minimize manual effort, reduce the risk of errors, and ensure compliance with retention policies.

Ben’s thoughts about this topic:

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.

Auto-disposition is not just a switch you flip. It takes a consistent effort to keep on top of it and ensure 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 of low amounts – to where you are consistently disposing of more than you bring in.”

Information Sharing with Law Enforcement Entities

Evidence Management Software facilitates seamless collaboration and information sharing with other law enforcement agencies, forensic laboratories, and legal entities involved in the investigative process. Through secure data exchange mechanisms and integration capabilities, EMS enables agencies to share evidence, case files, and relevant information with authorized stakeholders, such as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and external forensic experts, enhancing collaboration, expediting investigations, and supporting the pursuit of justice.

Pertinent Data

Your RMS System Will Lack Pertinent Data About Evidence. Ben’s thoughts about this topic…

“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. 

Evidence Management

In our system, when you enter drugs, you get a lot of information about… the packaging type, the number of pills, and the grams. 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 really creates a problem.”

Customization

Traditional RMS (Records Management Systems) often come with rigid structures and limited customization options, which can hinder their adaptability to the unique needs of different law enforcement agencies. However, Tracker Products’ SAFE Evidence Management Software stands out for its robust customization capabilities, offering agencies the flexibility to tailor the system to their specific workflows, requirements, and preferences.

Tracker Products’ software also allows agencies to configure various aspects of the system, such as data fields, user permissions, reporting templates, and workflow automation rules. This flexibility enables agencies to create a customized solution that aligns perfectly with their operational processes and organizational goals.

Whether it’s integrating with existing systems, defining custom metadata fields for different types of evidence, or implementing specialized workflows for specific units or divisions, Tracker Products’ SAFE Software empowers agencies to adapt and evolve in response to changing needs and technological advancements. This will maximize efficiency, improve productivity, and enhance the overall management of digital and physical evidence throughout the entire chain of custody.

In the realm of evidence management, the divergence between conventional RMS systems and specialized Evidence Management Software is strikingly clear. As law enforcement agencies navigate the intricate web of digital and physical evidence, the need for tailored solutions that prioritize integrity, efficiency, and adaptability has never been more pronounced.

Evidence Management Software, with its dedicated modules for evidence tracking, robust support for digital evidence, comprehensive chain of custody documentation, and customizable workflows, emerges as a vital ally in the pursuit of justice. By embracing these specialized tools, agencies can streamline operations, enhance collaboration, and ensure compliance with legal requirements, empowering them to effectively navigate the complexities of the digital age while maintaining the integrity of the evidence trail from collection to disposition.

Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to contribute to your ongoing education through a series of FREE online evidence management training classes. You can also watch the Tracker Products webinars and check out The Evidence Show! (recorded webinars).

To get in on the discussion with over 1,400 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.