Irrefutable evidence: Modern technology transforms short-term storage

Accurate, automated documentation with smart locker technology protects evidence integrity

Technology is making policing more efficient and effective. Specifically, the technology for evidence collection has made significant advances in recent years. Many law enforcement agencies have stepped up their investments in modern technology such as trace DNA, drones, video, facial recognition and even 3D scans of crime scenes.

However, the story is often different behind the scenes. In many departments investment in evidence storage technology hasn’t kept pace.

It’s time for a new look at evidence intake.

High-profile cases and hugely popular TV dramas have driven increased demand for cutting-edge technologies for evidence collection and analysis. By comparison, the need to provide more effective protection and documentation of evidence has been largely overlooked.

The International Association for Property and Evidence’s professional standards state that secure temporary storage should protect evidence from tampering, theft, contamination and the environment, but many law enforcement agencies would be hard challenged to prove that they meet the standard.

Evidence intake is still done largely the old-fashioned way: by hand. The process relies on multiple paper forms, envelopes and signature logs that are hard to trace and may have errors or legibility issues. Once evidence has been packaged, it’s deposited in a closet or traditional locker that may be secured with a combination or lock and key.

To further complicate matters, evidence custodians aren’t likely to be on duty at all times. But evidence can come in at any time – often at the ends of shifts when officers are tired or in a hurry. If temporary storage is already full and no evidence custodian is present, officers may resort to storing evidence in a desk drawer, filing cabinet, or even the trunk of a patrol car.

Ensuring that evidence will stand up in court.

This time-consuming, analog intake process fails to document custody between the time that officers package the evidence and when it is logged into the evidence room. And it is this gap in documentation that defense attorneys can exploit to create “reasonable doubt” or even have evidence dismissed.

Fortunately, there is a solution that eliminates this weak link in the chain of custody. Smart lockers create an accurate digital record that includes when evidence is deposited and by whom, as well as when it is retrieved by an evidence custodian. According to Chief Michael Miller, president of Property Room Consulting, Inc., “Smart lockers provide a highly reliable, easy-to-use solution for tracking and safeguarding evidence between the time that the officer seizes it in the field to when it finally makes its way into the evidence room. That transfer period is critical, and it’s exactly where mistakes in record keeping are most likely to occur. “

Streamlining evidence intake.

Smart lockers provide an efficient, automated workflow that speeds evidence processing and eliminates hassles with keys and combinations. Here’s how the process works:

  1. An officer scans a barcode on the evidence package and places it in a smart locker.
  2. The locker automatically locks when closed, and simultaneously records the case information from the barcode, along with the date, time and officer ID.
  3. Next, an electronic notification with a unique barcode is sent to the evidence custodian.
  4. The evidence custodian uses the barcode to open the locker and retrieve the evidence.
  5. This creates a second record with time, date, case number and custodian ID.
  6. When the locker is empty and the door is shut, it is once again available to store evidence.

In addition to creating a more accurate and complete documentation of evidence, smart locker technology improves security. Unlike conventional lockers that may use keys or combination locks, a smart locker can only be opened with a unique barcode. This restricts access to evidence to only two people: the submitting officer and the evidence custodian. It also effectively eliminates any opportunity to tamper with evidence, ensuring its authenticity and integrity.

Better by design.

An optional pass-through design, with doors on both the front and rear sides of the lockers, simplifies workflow for evidence technicians. They no longer need to leave the evidence room and open lockers one by one. Instead, a single rear panel allows them to “sweep” all the evidence at once.

6 reasons why smart lockers are the better choice for short-term evidence storage.

table explaining 6 reasons why smart lockers are the better

Evidence comes in all shapes and sizes, and smart lockers can accommodate everything from small packets of drugs to handguns, long guns and even large bulky items such as flat screen televisions. Locker configurations can be easily configured to fit your facility layout and storage requirements.

Smart lockers are a “slam dunk.”

Modernizing short-term evidence storage is a win for everyone. Patrol officers and detectives appreciate the convenience and ease of use. Digital documentation makes it easier for evidence custodians to track evidence and conduct audits and inventories. And top brass can rest assured that criminals aren’t likely to get off on a technicality.

“When there are problems with mis-handled or missing evidence, the repercussions can go all the way up the chain of command,” Chief Miller says. “The last thing that we in law enforcement want is for a crime victim to be deprived of justice because of a problem with evidence. Smart lockers go a very long way to ensure that doesn’t happen.”