Case Study: Northeast Crime Lab

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Ask anyone who works in a crime lab about the biggest challenge to their work, and they’ll say the rapid increase in biological evidence and a lack of additional storage space.

Evidence storage at state crime lab in the Northeast United States

This was the case for a police agency in Northeast United States. The agency grappled with managing property and processing evidence for 3,000 state troopers, as well as all levels of law enforcement throughout the state. The agency wrestled with challenges in the critical functions of protecting evidence through the chain of custody in their crime lab storage, and, at the same time, providing secure, long-term evidence storage at its headquarters’ central repository. Another challenge was the construction of a new technology center that included separate trace/biological, ballistics, and Controlled Dangerous Substances (CDS) laboratories.

The agency also had a growing inventory of records and evidence that had to be stored indefinitely – including everything from computers to tire rims to over 25,000 incoming MVR tapes each year. The traditional pallet racking and file cabinets impeded staff members’ ability to access items and handle them in accordance with standard procedures.

The lab knew it couldn’t continue with their outdated, underequipped storage system and decided it was time to plan for a new lab storage solution. In planning for the improved storage facilities, the agency’s primary objectives were to:

  • Preserve the integrity of evidence throughout the chain of custody
  • Safely and securely store items such as weapons, ammunition, and CDS
  • Ensure that only authorized personnel would have access to evidence
  • Facilitate documentation of evidence handling at every step, through final disposition
  • Optimize existing space

Long-term evidence is stored on high-density mobile shelving in the agency’s central repository.

At the headquarters’ technology center, a unique storage solution featured a mix of high-density mobile storage systems and evidence lockers that were designed to make the most of the highly confined space.

As evidence arrives at the facility, it is packaged, tagged, and placed in secure temporary storage lockers. These lockers feature a unique keyless lock design that allows troopers to drop off evidence at any time, day or night, without the need for staff to receive the items immediately. When items move into lab testing, evidence is placed in storage units customized to fit under lab desks for extra security and space savings. The units automatically shut and can only be accessed by authorized personnel to ensure a secure chain of custody.

Aisles of long-term evidence can be quickly accessed by technicians with the touch of a button.

In the ballistics lab, every type of ammunition needed is housed on a high density mobile system with shelves that slide together to create double the storage capacity in the same footprint. With the turn of a three-spoke handle, the shelves slide apart to allow fast access to items needed by department personnel. Firearms processed at the ballistics lab are stored in a locked vault containing multiple sizes and shapes of lockers to accommodate an array of weapons.

When not at their station, crime lab technicians place evidence in storage units customized to fit under lab desks for added security and space savings.

Other pieces of long-term evidence are stored on a separate high density mobile system. When evidence is needed on short notice for testing, trial, or disposal, aisles can be quickly accessed with the touch of a button. With evidence organized and easy to locate, employees no longer have to waste time pulling out boxes and searching for misplaced evidence.

A forensic scientist places an item inside an evidence locker. The unit automatically shuts, and when locked, can only be accessed by the scientist performing the tests.

Evidence storage is always a challenge at police agencies – but crime labs come with an even more unique set of storage needs. New technologies for cooled and ventilated storage lockers and drying cabinets, as well as improved tracking and aisle restriction can all help crime labs work smarter and safer. Storage is often overlooked in the planning of crime labs, but better storage systems form the basis of more streamlined processing procedures that are not only more efficient, but also preserve the chain of custody and the integrity of evidence.

Click here to learn more about evidence storage and set up a free space assessment.

In the ballistics lab, a mechanical-assist high density storage system stores virtually every variety of ammunition known, organized by size and category.

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