Evidence-Tracking Transformation

How a renovation and the addition of a bar-coded evidence tracking system transformed a property room.

Cramped, disorganized, and outdated would, until recently, have been the words used to describe the Maplewood Police Department's property room. Six thousand pieces of evidence, items that had been accumulating for nearly 40 years and had rarely been purged — everything from drugs and guns to bicycles and even a tombstone — were housed haphazardly in a 4-by-10 foot space.

A few years ago, Detective Kerry Daniels was named the evidence custodian of the Maplewood Police Department, a law enforcement agency with 31 officers serving a suburb of St. Louis with a population of about 9,000. In addition to the title Det. Daniels inherited a challenge: bringing order to our evidence room and implementing procedures for the orderly tracing, storage, and retrieving of evidence in the hope of attaining the department's ultimate goal - accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

During the journey to making that goal a reality, the agency has been fortunate in two respects: THe police department headquarters recently underwent a renovation and we purchased eTWIST, a bar-coded evidence-tracking software system with both back-end and mobile handheld device capabilities.

Headquarters Renovation

In 2009 the city of Maplewood renovated the police department, and one of the centerpieces of the effort was the aforementioned overhaul of the evidence room. Gone is the closet that was so small that it made any orderly system of cataloging evidence impossible. In its place is a space four times larger - 12 by 24 feet. Movable shelving was installed to make the most of the expanded space. A pass-through lock system, including a refrigerating unit for the storage of fluid and DNA evidence, helps keep the evidence secure. And whereas the old evidence room was too small to accommodate even the evidence properly, the new space is big enough for a processing desk for officers logging in evidence.

eTWIST software

The other important step in brining order to the chain-of-custody capabilities was the purchase of eTWIST, a bar-coded evidence-tracking system from St. Louis-based Primary Marking. As the department considered other systems, what set eTWIST apart was its back-end software system, which would allow us to carefully track our evidence, and durable Motorola mobile handheld devices. The devices, or mobile computers, are integrated with Windows Mobile 5.0/6.1 and Web-based HTML software.

The handheld devices operate like smart phones but with an evidence technician in mind. The department can enter all of the same information that it would normally enter while sitting at a desk, but with the flexibility to enter evidence data out in the field, even at the crime scene. The system generates a bar code that can be printed with the use of a Zebra GX420t ringer. The label is then affixed to the evidence bag for easy scanning and tracking.

In addition to the bar code, the mobile devised store the case number, time, date, and officer's department service number. It can also be used to take photos of the scene and even record the GPS coordinates of the location where a piece of evidence was found. All of the information can then be easily uploaded to the back-end database, eliminating the need for more time at a computer back at the station.

Byrne Justice Assistace Grant

To keep the evidence room overhaul on track, the department applied for an Edward Byrne Memorial Byrne Justice Assistance Grant. The U.S. Justice Department unveiled the Byrne program - in which state and local law enforcement agencies may apply for grants from a pool of approximately $500 million to assist them in purchasing technology.

Hoping to secure funds to purchase more handheld eTWIST devices for the department, Maplewood applied for funding. This was the first time Maplewood had ever written a grant application, but the process was not as difficult as they had imagined. The awards have yet to be announced, and we're waiting with crossed fingers.

CALEA Accreditation Program

As was mentioned earlier, the department is seeking accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, and the evidence-handling overhaul is an important part of that effort. As part of the rigorous accreditation process, Maplewood is required to be able to retrieve evidence in a prompt manner. Before the renovation, the grant, and the new system, that would have been an almost impossible task. There is now a place for everything and everything is in its place. What's more, with the use of our eTWIST software the department can instantly locate evidence, track its whereabouts, and audit it to make the purging and destruction process more efficient.

Conclusion

Tracking, strong chain-of-custody procedures, and proper storage of evidence are all crucial parts of the justice system. Without evidence, convictions are difficult to obtain; tainted or poorly stored evidence can also mean the difference between conviction and acquittal. All evidence custodians understand and appreciate the vital role they play in the administration of justice. Although the changes have not always been easy, they are grateful to have been given the chance to help bring Maplewood police department into the 21st century with the state-of-the-art evidence-management techniques using eTWIST.

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