The smoking gun – where has your evidence been?
A piece of evidence experiences a significant journey across its lifecycle. Consider a gun collected at a crime scene. Once the initial on-site investigation is complete, the gun may be transferred to a property and evidence storage facility.
The following week, it may be moved to the lab, where it is first routed to DNA to be swabbed, and then travels to Firearms for further testing.
Upon completion of testing, the gun then returns to the property and evidence facility where it remains until it is either submitted as evidence at trial or is dispositioned by property personnel.
Dispositioning could include returning it to its owner, converting it to police use, destroying it, or some other resolution.
In this example, if the law enforcement agency investigating the crime uses multiple systems for different locations or tasks, this journey contains multiple opportunities for problems.
The more handoffs, interactions, communications, or exchanges — either between people at different stages of the investigation team or between the different systems they use — the greater the risk of errors, bottlenecks, or other mishaps that could seriously hinder or compromise the investigation. Moreover, obvious links between multiple items of evidence can be overlooked or confused.
This post will discuss current management issues, and what it will mean to have LIMS support in your forensics investigations.
Is your forensic investigation management efficient?
Many law enforcement agencies use multiple systems to manage forensic investigations. While this approach is very common, using multiple systems creates unnecessary challenges in forensic work. You might see one software application used at a crime scene, another in the laboratory, and a third for the property and evidence storage facility.
The most obvious and problematic issues are the increased risks of errors and delays, especially when pieces of evidence need to be “handed off” between systems. In addition, there are needless time and cost inefficiencies involved in maintaining the interfaces themselves, as well as managing maintenance and support contracts with multiple vendors.
Benefits of a unified LIMS
Forensics teams can gain significant advantages if every stage of the investigation is integrated into a single comprehensive Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). You can dramatically reduce system risks because there’s no need to switch between multiple siloed applications.
- Managing costs
Consolidating all functions into a single system from a single vendor also eliminates the need for multiple contracts and support plans while also reducing the total cost of ownership. At the same time, the learning curve for users and administrators becomes much more manageable because they only need to become proficient with one system.
- Reducing risk
The most important benefit, however, is risk reduction. With a comprehensive system, no one needs to re-key data that’s already been entered somewhere else, such as records of victims, suspects, items of evidence or other details. This eliminates the need for duplicate data entry, which results in far fewer human errors.
- Ease of use and compliance
Ideally, a LIMS configured for forensics applications should be intuitive for end-users at every stage of the investigation – with strong interfacing capabilities between different parts of the team as well as other critical systems. Browser independence is another plus that enables team members to work on any type of device, without limiting future hardware or software upgrades. Finally, a forensics LIMS must be able to support the latest regulatory and technology requirements, evolving over time to maintain compliance.
What does a forensic investigation look like when a comprehensive system like this is in place?
Imagine a unified forensic workflow
With a comprehensive system, crime scene investigators can document all critical information on site, such as weather conditions, hazards, preservation and protection methods, photos, videos, evidence collected, and techniques employed. They can document the scene narrative and keep a log of everyone who entered and exited the scene.
In this scenario, an electronic chain-of-custody begins as soon as evidence is collected. This streamlines the receiving process when the evidence arrives at the lab or property. Since all the data is already in the LIMS, items can be easily received by simply scanning a barcode. Once in Property, they can be stored safely and easily retrieved when needed.
As evidence moves between the various lab units and Property, all stakeholders can follow the chain-of-custody and readily identify the current custodian and location. And since all evidence is logged in a common database, lab personnel can see what other items may be associated with the case and request them from storage as needed.
In addition, law enforcement agencies typically require some interfaces between the LIMS and other systems, such as the agency’s Records Management System (RMS) or the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS). In such cases, organizations benefit greatly by choosing a more robust, enterprise-level LIMS that minimizes unnecessary interfaces.
Forensics labs depend heavily on both the ready availability of collected data as well as the integrity of samples and data. This pursuit of improved efficiency and data integrity across the evidence lifecycle is a key driver of the industry’s current digital transformation.