Why a Mobile App is Critical for Effective Evidence Management
March 20, 2022
As technology evolves and pushes towards an app-driven environment across the industry, Tracker’s SAFE software meets the current and future needs of evidence managers through our mobile application.
Gone (forever) are the days when people were tethered to their desks, manually entering or managing evidence. Using the mobile app, you and the people involved in each case can view evidence movement, assign and update tasks, add new data and notes, and create reports… all in real time.
Most of the tasks related to daily operations can be performed on the SAFE mobile app. Pushing capabilities and functionality, once reserved for the office, are now available to officers gathering evidence in the field, evidence managers inventorying their storage facilities, and Police Chiefs working remotely.
Available on iOS and Android platforms, the mobile app combines the functionality of barcode scanning, signature capture, and image uploading with real-time system access from anywhere in the world.
In this article, we will talk about a multitude of functionality benefits that begin in the field, and facilitate the evidence management process all the way through to disposition. The features include – but aren’t limited to – submitting evidence, scanning barcodes, tracking movements, doing audits and inventories, running discrepancy reports, automating disposition, and so much more!
But, before we talk about the features and benefits, let’s cover the basic life cycle of evidence. Why? So you can clearly see how using our mobile app can increase the efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability of each of these important stages.
The Evidence Life Cycle
Our friends in law enforcement know that from the time an item is collected in the field, the evidence lifecycle clock starts ticking. Some items will stay for weeks, others years, some forever. But, each item stored in your property room has the same essential life cycle. Our Evidence Management System equips you to manage every step in the cycle, from collection through disposition.
- COLLECTION AND SUBMISSION
With Tracker Products, evidence logging can begin from the field or in the evidence submission area. We know packaging is critical – and that’s why our system prints a barcode and label with all necessary information – no scribbled writing, no extra paperwork, and no duplication efforts.
- INTAKE AND STORAGE
With Tracker Products, the intake process can be as simple as inspecting the package and two or three scans later, it’s ready for storage. It’s just that simple. Every action is securely recorded maintaining an unbroken, unimpeachable chain of custody.
If evidence needs to go to the lab for analysis or to court for trial, you can transfer items digitally and capture signatures or add attachments in the system. If you’re working with outside agencies or entities, you still have the flexibility to print release or transfer documentation from the system.
Without having to check the item’s history, the software will send the submitting officer a retention review request to approve the disposal of the item, if appropriate, or request to keep the item for a specified period of time before the next review.
Okay, that covers the life cycle of evidence, but you, as an evidence custodian, know there is a LOT more going on behind the scenes than the four basic summaries of the process.
In addition to inventory control, managing evidence requires a system capable of producing an unbreakable chain of custody: Providing documentation of evidence movement and transfer, facilitating communication between investigators and property room personnel, ensuring that evidence is available for pre-approved labs, prosecutors and defense attorneys, automating the disposal approval process, and digitizing accountability functions like audits, inventories, and discrepancy reports.
The Benefits of Using Mobile
They say when someone witnesses a crime, that person’s memory of the details of the crime is very important to catching the suspect. The formulation of new memories is sometimes called construction, and the process of bringing up old memories is called reconstruction.
*** Bear with us, we are getting to a point here
Yet, as we retrieve our memories, we also tend to alter and modify them. A memory pulled from long-term storage into short-term memory is malleable. New events can be added and we can change what we think we remember about past events, resulting in inaccuracies and distortions.
For Officers and Investigators
Why is that pertinent? Officers and investigators are witnesses too. In the field, they are bearing witness to the evidence that was left behind in a crime scene. Using the mobile app in the field, they can begin to log evidence before they ever touch it. This can include uploading photographs, documenting observations, and cataloging physical and digital evidence. This real-time approach contributes to accurate recording of the exact time, location, and conditions during discovery.
Our SAFE App puts the full power of technology into the hands of your agency users. We are the only vendor that has a physical and digital evidence ‘loader’ for iPhone or Android devices. This means real-time crime scene remote data entry. Yes, entering the evidence and digital evidence as police officers and detectives are collecting them!
For Evidence Custodians
A mobile app can also save time and space for evidence custodians. We all know, using pen and paper evidence logs is an archaic way to manage evidence. Only slightly better than that is using an RMS to try and manage evidence.
Manual paper processes and inefficient technology systems can rob your agency of one irreplaceable resource: Time. Quality evidence management systems leverage technology as a force multiplier to decrease wasted time, effort and redundancy, and to increase the amount of time available to sustainably manage other critical evidence tasks, such as: Automated intake, disposition, movement, data entry, accountability and labeling practices. Each of which yield quantifiable time savings for your agency.
Industry wide, between 50% and 80% of evidence stored by law enforcement is eligible for disposition. Without effective disposition measures in place, the volume of physical evidence stored by your agency can quickly outgrow available storage space. An effective evidence management system can’t build you a new facility, but it can help your agency maximize storage efficiency and significantly reduce storage of evidence no longer needed by the justice system.
For Police Executives
Being in a leadership role within a police department certainly comes with a great deal of responsibility. Depending on the size or hierarchy of an organization, police executives may be responsible for everything from public safety policies to making sure that justice will be served. They may interact with: staff members, lawyers, city officials and even the accused.
Bearing that in mind, they need to know what is going on ALL the time. Should someone in a leadership role be asked about the status of any case that their PD is responsible for, the answers can be found on their cell phone. The entire chain of custody is stored in Tracker’s SAFE app: Date of submission, evidence transfers, lab results, current location, the assigned Police Officer, notes from approved case team-members.
When meeting with city officials about the need for a new facility, for example, police executives may be asked: How many items their PD currently has in storage, how much room is left in their evidence unit, how many items were taken in and disposed of in the last year, and how those figures compare to the previous year. All of that data is available on their mobile device, and the information is only a couple of clicks away. Not only that, police executives can create comprehensive, visual reports of the data, and send it directly to the city official’s email address.
What if you have a quality evidence management system, but the software provider doesn’t offer a mobile app; are you saving as much time and creating as much space as possible?
This scenario is certainly better than using pen and paper or an RMS, but evidence managers can save a LOT more time, and create a lot more space by using a mobile app. How?
Let’s take a look at excerpts from a webinar discussion that Ben Townsend, the Founder and CEO of Tracker, had with Krista Morton – a 25 year veteran evidence custodian with the Des Moines Police Department – regarding inventory best practices.
Ben said, “If I were to ask you to go back to when you didn’t have technology – when it was more paper-based – what are some of the key differences between having technology and not having technology. Did you do inventories without having any level of technology in place?
Krista said, “We couldn’t, because we had to generate lists through technology. We had a big evidence log book and then we had paper. We did not do any type of inventory until we finally got our first technical logging system – where we put information in the computer to generate a list. I was already with the department for close to 10 years before we ever did an inventory.”
Ben said, “So, your first inventory was done by walking around with a piece of paper, checking everything off. Would you even have an idea of how long it would take to inventory the entire evidence room at that point in time?”
Krista said, “We just did locations. I would print out a list of everything in that location, take that piece of paper, look for individual items, and check them off. We had to research the ones that shouldn’t have been there, or the ones that we didn’t find. It was very time consuming.”
Ben said, “Let’s fast forward to now. When you moved into the world of technology, what does an inventory look like now? How big of a difference is it today from what it used to be?”
Krista said, “Oh, it’s much easier. It’s quicker. Scanning everything, and having the computer find the discrepancies, is huge. It’s night and day. And, it’s more accurate because [doing them the old way] there were errors, and you can misread the numbers. The accuracy of technology and the speed now… Before, we would always have two people doing inventories. One was reading, one was finding. Now, one person can do it. So, you’re saving manpower by only needing one person. It’s much better; I would not want to go back to the old way.”
Ben said, “The Des Moines PD Evidence Unit… it’s important to know they only have two and a half full-time staff running their evidence operation. So, keep that context in mind; it’s not like they have a dozen people in the evidence room.
I ran these stats this morning. They have a total of 39,704 checked-in items in the evidence room. In the last 365 days, they’ve added 18,343 items and they have disposed of 20,265 items in the last 365 days; which ultimately means they are disposing of more evidence than what is coming in during the year. That is one of the most critical factors for a healthy evidence organization – getting rid of more than what you’re bringing in. It might only be to a slight degree, but you are opening space up.”
Krista said, “I guess I didn’t realize that we’ve been getting rid of that much stuff. I just follow that little graph on Tracker and I see the little peaks and stuff like that. But, as far as numbers… I had no idea.”
RELATED: EVIDENCE ROOM INVENTORIES MADE EASY (for the full article of their discussion)
Ben said, “I did run one more statistic. If every location has roughly 42 items, and it takes roughly five minutes to inventory every one of those locations… Krista, you’ve done a lot of inventories, if there were 42 items in a location – and you were using Tracker’s mobile app – do you think you could pull off an inventory in five minutes?”
Krista said, “Yes.”
Ben said, “So, if that number is roughly correct, and Krista was using that mobile app – and she didn’t stop or slow down to any degree for eight hours a day – it would take almost 10 working days to inventory the entire evidence room.
The reason I mention that is because Krista may think, My goodness, our evidence room is large. We’ve got almost 40,000 items. How would I ever get through it? Krista, could you imagine clocking away at this for 10 straight days and doing the entire inventory with only one person?”
Krista said, “No, because it’s not that simple. I mean, you’ve got to do the discrepancies. Once you get the discrepancies, you’ve got to figure out the issues with it. It takes some time to investigate it. Doing a straight inventory? Yes. But, the reason we’re doing inventories is to catch our mistakes. So, we have to fix our mistakes.”
Ben said, “That’s true. Every one of those discrepancies is going to add time to the equation. BTW, Yesterday, I asked Krista to take Tracker’s SAFE mobile app and have someone take a video of her doing an inventory of roughly eight items in the evidence room. In the video, Krista went into the mobile app on her phone and started an inventory. As she scans each barcode in the selected location, it’s sending that information directly into the app on the phone.”
***We encourage you to watch the short video of Krista doing an inventory (link in the previous paragraph). If a picture is worth a thousand words, a short video is worth a million.
Ben continued, “A critical part of using the mobile app is that once she’s done scanning, it comes back with a list of every item that was scanned – including the location – and will show the discrepancies on her screen in real time. She doesn’t have to leave and go back to her computer or another device to get the results. When she clicks that ‘run report’ button, it is going to come back and tell her the results of that inventory.
In this case, it shows zero discrepancies. She scanned eight items and found no problems. Now, she can start a new report and move right into the next location. We don’t have to go back to the computer to get these results.”
Additional Benefits of Using the Mobile App
Whether users are working from the field, their home, the grocery store, or while on vacation they can…
- Work from anywhere and on any internet-connected device to utilize the Tracker Products system
- Officers can submit evidence in real time, thereby eliminating inaccuracies and distortions
- The SAFE app also has built-in barcode functionality, allowing users to easily tag and scan evidence
- Label items, review cases, read messages, add new items, search information, adjust your settings, and more
- Document evidence movement and transfer
- Generate data in real-time, share what you need in the exact moment
- Release or transfer documentation from the system
- Transfer items digitally and capture signatures or add attachments in the system
- Facilitate communication between investigators and property room personnel
- Evidence Custodians can grant or block access and privileges for: officers and investigators, PD senior staff, lab technicians, and prosecutors or defense attorneys
- Automate the disposal approval process
- Conduct accountability processes like audits and inventories
- Retrieve, view, and assess physical and digital data simultaneously
- Send alerts surrounding significant developments in cases
- Automate upcoming review dates so you and the officers don’t miss deadlines
- Create automated charts and graphs to give you a visual representation of your data on your dashboard.
- Use that data to ask for MUCH needed resources
- Save your organization time and money.
Another great aspect to the software is that nothing in a case’s history can be altered, overwritten, or deleted. Yes, new information can be added, but in the spirit of complete transparency, none of the history can be removed. This is even true when mistakes are made. Was evidence misplaced? Document it, talk about it, then solve the core problem, so it doesn’t happen again in the future.
Tracker Products and The Evidence Management Institute want to give you something productive to think about during this time of uncertainty… a series of FREE evidence management training videos and episodes of “The Evidence Show.” You can also watch and comment on the Tracker and EMI webinars. Or – to get in on the discussion, with over 750 evidence custodians – join the Evidence Management Community Forum on Facebook.
That’s also FREE, and it’s an AWESOME resource for evidence managers and evidence custodians from across the country. It’s where they gather together to talk about evidence, share best practices, and ask for advice. It’s this great community that everyone should be joining. You can not only get great content, but interact with your peer group too!