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Lost Evidence and the Most Famous Missing Child in History

September 4, 2019

Evidence facility audits – nationwide – continue to reveal instances of missing evidence, which means weaker criminal cases and mistrials. The result? No justice for victims or for those who are wrongfully incarcerated. 

Take the case of the “Long-Lost Evidence In Etan Patz Case.” According to excerpts from BuzzFeed News, evidence from the case was found several miles away from the New York Police Department precinct that originally investigated the Patz case. The discovery is the latest twist in one of New York’s most famous cold cases, and it also revealed a major flaw in the way that evidence can be mishandled by one of the most prestigious police departments in the world. To better understand the tragic rippling effect of the lost evidence in this case, keep reading.

etanpatz

The attorneys for a mentally ill man accused of murdering Etan Patz asked for a mistrial, days after thousands of pages of long-lost evidence pertaining to one of New York’s most famous cold cases turned up in a Harlem police station. The evidence, consisting mostly of handwritten notes by detectives and prosecutors, was found in three dusty boxes at a Harlem police station.

The attorneys for Pedro Hernandez, said they hoped to use the new evidence to halt the proceedings. The newly rediscovered documents include blank posters, letters of condolences to the Patz family, and index cards detailing interviews with psychics.

Patz was 6 years old when he went missing in downtown Manhattan in 1979, on what was supposed to be his first day going to school by himself. His disappearance unleashed a large-scale manhunt spanning the whole city, with posters of his face appearing everywhere from billboards in Times Square to milk cartons.

The efforts to find Patz – also known as the Original Milk Carton Kid – proved futile and his body was never found. Although prosecutors spent years investigating a convicted child molester called Jose Ramos, nobody had been arrested for the case until it was reopened in 2010. 

Hernandez — who his attorneys say is mentally ill — became the main suspect for the newly reopened case in 2012, when he confessed to choking the child and then throwing his body in the trash. His lawyers contend that the confession was produced under duress and that Hernandez, who has an IQ of 70, did not understand his rights. 

Related Article: HAVING AN ORGANIZED PROPERTY AND EVIDENCE ROOM

So… has a murderer been roaming the streets since 1979 – free to kill other children for 4 decades? Has a mentally-ill man been wrongly incarcerated for over 7 years? Or is Jose Ramos (in prison on another charge), the real killer? Perhaps the answer can be found in the rediscovered evidence. But, no matter the outcome, the reputation of the New York Police Department will be stained forever. If it can happen to them, it can happen to you, unless… you have a state-of-the-art, digital tracking system. 

Evidence Custodians handle massive amounts of digital and physical evidence every month, which can result in misplaced or lost evidence. Using log-books or spreadsheets to manage huge volumes of evidence is not only cumbersome and ineffective, it can have a negative impact on your police station and the people of your community.

A digital evidence management system empowers evidence custodians to maintain a clear chain of custody, track physical and digital evidence, set alerts for evidence updates, and regulate evidence disposition. But don’t just take our word for it. 

In an independent article by Melissa Mann of PoliceOne, she wrote…

There are four ways an evidence management system can benefit your agency:

1. A DIGITAL EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM IMPROVES EVIDENCE ACCESSIBILITY

Strategic investments in digital policing strategies have shown to improve public safety and law enforcement operations. Without embracing the growth of electronic evidence software management systems, the job of both the police officer and investigator becomes much more complicated and the likelihood for evidence mishandling increases. 

2. A DIGITAL EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM OFFERS CLOUD-BASED STORAGE

Cloud storage has evolved tremendously over the last several years. It is very useful for agencies to ensure the security of digital evidence. Cloud storage offers efficiency, agility and innovation that typically cannot be achieved with in house or traditional on-site servers. Cloud-based storage capacity is endless. 

3. A DIGITAL EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM DELIVERS MULTI-TIERED STORAGE OPTIONS

Additional options for digital evidence management software exist in the form of multi-tiered storage systems. The multi-tiered systems include the ability for the data to be stored on site, distributed between solid-state drives, file-based tapes and fast-spinning hard disks. Data is rotated depending upon age, demand and priority as customized by police agency. The system as a whole is adaptable and can shrink and expand as necessary.

4. A DIGITAL EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM IMPROVES DIGITAL EVIDENCE SECURITY

Secure storage and careful maintenance of digital evidence has never been more important than it is today in the law enforcement community. As the custodians of this digital evidence, law enforcement personnel must abide by the strict chain of custody rules established by the Criminal Justice Information Service (CJIS) and the Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS). Storage of digital evidence must be managed according to law enforcement standards. CJIS and FIPS sets forth detailed policies that govern the creation, viewing, modification, transmission, dissemination, storage and destruction of data.

Video, photo, voice recordings and documents are all critical evidence pieces which law enforcement agencies, with the assistance of advanced technology, can store and maintain at a level of security that most agencies can never hope to establish on their own. 

Related Article: EFFECTIVE EVIDENCE TRACKING SYSTEMS

In short, officers, investigators, and attorneys need digital tracking tools to help them quickly and easily access and process materials for solving their cases and putting the right person behind bars. Tracker Products’ “SAFE” is the industry standard in evidence tracking software.  An advanced evidence tracking system that will simplify, streamline, and secure physical and digital evidence management. Our software platform is designed to meet the needs of law enforcement to truly manage all aspects of evidence management from collection through disposition.

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