Increasing Efficiency with Digital Management Tools

“I spend about a third of my time keeping up with DVDs—storing, copying (and recopying) them for detectives and the prosecutor, and refiling,” complained one evidence custodian. The solution to this problem is of course a digital evidence management system, or DEMS, that permits copying images, videos, and audio recordings on a secure server (cloud or on premises). One agency of 600 officers found that installing Digital TraQ on its servers saved half a person’s time and eliminated the need to fill a newly budgeted position to manage its flood of digital evidence.

Lifting the burden of DVDs and saving the time of evidence custodians is only part of the cost advantage. A few years ago, a study put together by a 200-officer agency in Washington state laid out expected annual costs of media and saved time and materials based on past experience, as follows:

Cost Component Quantity Supplies Officer Time Custodian
CDs 2,217 $0.89 $4.10 $2.93 $17,758
DVDs 1,221 $0.27 $4.10 $2.93 $8,907
Transfers to DA 761     $1.77 $1,347
Annual Cost         $28,012

These figures bear witness to some of the costs that should be considered in managing digital evidence in the 21st Century—a time when digital evidence is becoming as important, if not more important, as physical evidence in solving and litigating cases.

For the property room, Digital TraQ offers several non-monetary advantages. Not only can it lift responsibility from custodians, but it also secures a copy of the original digital file backed by a chain of custody. The process can verify that the file is the original untouched version—it is possible to “Photoshop” files on the capture device before upload—but it assures 100 percent accurate copying of the file.

Officers may upload from any recording device: digital cameras, video cameras, audio recorders, or QueTel’s smartphone software—an all-in-one application that takes images and videos, records interviews and officer notes at the scene, scans drivers licenses to record contact data from involved persons, captures documents as PDFs, and takes pictures of evidence as it lies. TraQ can incorporate a citizen portal whereby members of the public can upload videos and images from their smartphones to provide active witnessing to an incident.

Files are easily accessible to detectives, at any time, without having to wait for a copy to be burned to DVD. Moreover, each time a user views, downloads, emails, or processes a file, Digital TraQ records the action in its chain of custody. If it is integrated with QueTel’s Evidence TraQ, not only do digital files upload within the evidence submission software, but detectives can also access both physical evidence records and digital evidence records from one “case portal.” Both capabilities truly integrate seamlessly, and in one database.

Being able to share files electronically removes a common problem the administrator for an Oregon District Attorney complained of: “I have a stack of DVDs on my desk and I can’t keep track of them.” One Virginia agency permits its commonwealth attorney access to Digital TraQ without restriction. (The chain of custody tracks his access.) TraQ provides the ability to control DA access by limiting the number of accesses and/or the period where an investigator or attorney has access. If a DA does not have access to the agency network, digital files can be temporarily uploaded to a cloud share where access is controlled by the same two-factor authentication that many banks require to access users’ accounts. In the latter case, a prosecutor may have the ability to share files with the defense as a means of eDiscovery.

To assist investigators in solving cases, TraQ provides tools to analyze images to find details that are not apparent in the raw file itself. We can offer the ability to analyze videos to recognize faces, to identify changes in scenes, and to identify situations—e.g. vehicles, people, animals, etc. When preparing cases for court, TraQ can make available a variety of tools to extract segments of videos or a frame, transcribe audio tracks, add closed captions, redact sensitive material, and display and synchronize multiple surveillance footage of a scene taken from different angles.

QueTel, founded in 1982, has been serving law enforcement since 1989. In addition to managing evidence and smart phone documentation of an incident, its software offerings seamlessly link to its Lab TraQ LIMS, as well as managing quartermaster inventory, impounded and seized vehicles, and officer/deputy training.

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