Saturday, June 24, 2006

Evidence Management

I wanted to talk about an often neglected area of Crime Scene Investigation and that is Evidence Management. My department currently has over 16,000 items of active evidence. As with most agencies, money is short and methods of keeping accurate records of evidence are hard to obtain.

Until 2001, I suffered through years of using an ancient program called dBase III which is a DOS based system. It crashed in 2000 because it was not Y2K compliant. We patched it up the best we could and trudged on. I tried to get new management software, but the expense of these programs turned this idea into wishful thinking. What I didn't realize is that I had an effective tool the entire time.

Most departments have computers. Many of these computers are equipped with Microsoft Office. If you fall into this category, check to see if you have Microsoft Access. If you do, you have a real possibility of creating a highly effective and powerful Evidence Management System. It may be challenging if you don't know how to use Access, but if you are looking for a solution, it will be worth your while to learn. Access is a database program. It can store as many columns of information as you need and can use multiple tables. You can search this information any way you want which is essential. It is able to import data from many different sources, so chances are you can pull over all of the information from your current system. It also has a tool called a Switchboard Manager which allows you to create custom menus to make it easy for people to use even if they don't like computers. The part that I really like is that you can create a multi-user environment so that several people can add and edit evidence information simultaneously. With dBase, we were stuck with one computer and only one person could work on it at a time. Now, when I have large amounts of evidence come in at once, I can have several people knocking it out all at once. I have also incorporated Barcoding which is quick, easy, and accurate.

The end result is a polished, professional, and powerful Evidence Management System. It is expandable and, best of all, it can be customized by the people who use it without having to call in a team of 'experts' to tell you what you need.
And you probably already have the software that you need - if not, Microsoft Access can be purchased at a much lower cost than what specialized companies try to sell their products for.

If you are thinking about taking on a project like this, please contact me. I will be happy to tell you about the pros and cons as well as give you advice on how this could work for you.