Should police officers use evidence management software?
As we talk with prospective clients, we sometimes encounter resistance from evidence room personnel regarding police officers doing the initial data entry portion of evidence management. This resistance is to be expected, I suppose, from anyone accustomed to taking handwritten information and transferring it to whatever database or spreadsheet might be in use. It’s just not something we’re used to doing, therefore we tend to be skeptical.
Many, if not most, modern evidence management software systems are designed in such a way as to allow the police officer logging the evidence to directly input data such as case number, location, date/time, suspect name, and so on, into the evidence management system, thus allowing some or all of that information to be printed on a bar code label. Such an evidence management system completely eliminates the need for an old school paper evidence form, paper logbooks, handwritten transfer receipts, etc.…
As we demonstrate our evidence management system though, we occasionally hear from evidence room managers “Oh no, I can’t trust that to anyone else, I’ll continue to do the data entry myself”. While that is certainly your prerogative, why in the world would you not want to use your new evidence management system to its full potential? You, as an evidence room manager or technician, will still have the ability to review the data for accuracy and correct it as needed. Since the Officer has to get the information to the evidence room one way or another, why not eliminate a few steps in the process and save everyone some time? Duplication of effort is costing your agency time and money in lost efficiency.
The advantages to trusting the Officers with data entry are many. First, we all have Officers in our agencies whose handwriting can rival that of an ER Doctor, being practically impossible to read. Mistakes are bound to happen when you cannot clearly read what was written. And while we’re on the subject of mistakes, what makes you so sure they aren’t submitting handwritten mistakes NOW and you’re simply duplicating those mistakes when you transfer the information into your database? Chances are, your new evidence management software is specifically designed to catch and correct many common mistakes, something those old paper forms will NEVER do.
Additionally, modern evidence management systems often have features that cannot be duplicated on a paper form, such as displaying latitude and longitude of the recovery location for each piece of evidence or maintaining an automatic, unalterable chain of custody. Fields within your software can be made “required”, thus eliminating the possibility of important information being left out. Try doing that with a paper form. Detectives, too, will appreciate not having more forms to rifle through as they review cases, and the added accuracy and ease of searching for information within the evidence management system will make their job much easier.
The Officer is going to need to get the information to you, either by handwriting it (the old way) or typing it into your evidence management system (the new way). Given the choice, most Officers today will probably tell you that they’d prefer to type. The young Officers being hired today have grown up typing, it’s not a foreign concept to them at all. Couple that with the ability to do almost all of it in the field on MDC’s or tablets and they’ll make the decision easy for you. If you continue to insist on handwritten evidence forms, along with that go handwritten evidence tags.
Your new evidence management system uses bar code labels that cannot be printed until the data is entered into the system. Do you really want each item of evidence to bear 2 labels, the original handwritten one, completed by the Officer, and the bar code label printed in the evidence room? And what happens to all of those paper forms once the cases are disposed of? Are they stored for years in file cabinets locked away in a basement somewhere? Shredded? Ignored?
Embrace change and do it right. Trust your new evidence management software, a lot of thought went into designing it. Before you know it, everyone will have accepted it and you’ll all appreciate the new “better” way of submitting evidence. Once evidence packages start coming to you bearing the bar code label with all pertinent information, all you’ll need to do in the evidence room is verify that the evidence was packaged correctly, note any lab work needed, double-check that the data is complete and accurate, assign the evidence items to their new storage location and pour another cup of coffee! The time saved for evidence room personnel is such that you will now actually have time to conduct audits, organize your evidence room, and make all of the improvements you’ve been talking about making for years.