Evidence management is experiencing a digital revolution that will fundamentally improve the way evidence is captured, stored and shared. The days of law enforcement officers copying digital evidence files onto DVDs, thumb drives or disks and hand delivering them to the District Attorney’s office are coming to an end. Powerful, integrated digital evidence management systems are rapidly becoming the way of the future.
Three specific groups involved in public safety and justice will each benefit from an integrated digital evidence management solution: 1) law enforcement investigators responsible for collecting, sorting and evaluating digital evidence every day; 2) the criminal justice attorneys responsible for using the evidence as they adjudicate their case load; and 3) the citizens within a community. Comprehensive, integrated digital evidence management solutions provide numerous advantages over the traditional methods, as described below:
How digital evidence management benefits law enforcement
Law enforcement agencies, including officers, records clerks and investigators, benefit from digital evidence management by using a common, secure system. Each user can access only those files relevant to their position and responsibility, with security features limiting visibility to everything else. A cloud-hosted, secure environment makes it much easier for individuals to add, organize, share, track, amend, redact and analyze footage from unlimited sources. Regardless of the original format of the footage, a well-designed solution will ensure that all file types open and all video footage can be played through a single program. Individuals can efficiently utilize the myriad of data sources that have become commonplace, including cell phone footage, gunshot detection systems, license plate reader data, body-worn and in-car cameras, city-owned cameras and even footage from privately owned cameras.
Some camera vendors offer stand-alone digital evidence management systems; however, they are designed to work primarily with their specific hardware, and don’t fully integrate footage from other video networks or other critical data sources such as RMS and CAD data. This limits law enforcement to these vendors’ digital hardware, whereas public safety agencies should seek out a more hardware-agnostic digital evidence management solution.
Digital evidence management solutions also make cross-jurisdictional agency sharing so much easier for criminal investigators. It allows for near seamless data and evidence sharing not only with other agencies, but with outside organizations within the criminal justice system. Without a robust and secure cloud-hosted digital evidence management solution, law enforcement personnel spend an inordinate amount of time burning disks or copying thumb drives to deliver to the DA’s office.
How digital evidence management benefits the criminal justice system
The criminal justice system benefits because information can now be shared securely and instantaneously with the ability for law enforcement to easily add additional digital files to a case and for attorneys to be notified whenever new or updated information is added. Hand-delivered digital evidence files often require several specific digital players to view each file. Also, hand-delivered media is not secure and does not provide any chain of custody. Once evidence is accessible on a DVD or thumb drive, there was no way to track who viewed the evidence or track the physical media which could easily be misplaced, misfiled or lost. Physical files are expensive, time consuming to share, unsecure and limited to a moment in time that may quickly become irrelevant.
Digital evidence management solutions allow each authorized staff member within a DA or Public Defender’s Office to have his or her own profile. Each login defines the case files and evidence within each case that an individual has permissions to view. Secure file access, including allowing users to delete, edit, download or share the information with others, is built into digital evidence management system. Every physical method of file sharing introduces significant privacy risks.
How digital evidence management benefits the public
Residents within a community often are the first resource for law enforcement when it comes to solving cases. Nearly every individual has the ability to capture photos, video and audio of incidents in real time, but citizens frequently do not know how to share their files with law enforcement personnel. Additionally, private business owners, especially gas stations, convenience stores and other retailers, have security cameras in and around their property and need convenient ways to share the footage they capture when crimes occur. For law enforcement agencies that do not use an online digital evidence collection tool, it is difficult to provide citizens with a convenient, secure (and if desired, anonymous) way to share private video footage or photos of an incident they might have captured on their cell phone. However, with a well-designed, cloud-hosted digital evidence management system, anyone in the community can instantly share any file with law enforcement because the agency has a convenient process as well as the infrastructure in place to handle all file types and sizes.
Footage shared by the public can be submitted anonymously if preferred, depending on the sharing rules defined by the law enforcement agency, which makes it easier for people who might otherwise be reluctant to have the ability to share what may be very useful footage. Engaging the public improves the collection of relevant data. With a digital evidence management system in place that makes sharing easy, fewer false arrests and more accurate prosecutions can result, freeing up an overburdened criminal justice system.
Powerful and well-engineered digital evidence management systems hold the promise of changing how each stakeholder interacts with evidence for the better. Simplifying a tedious task for all parties involved – from law enforcement officials and criminal justice personnel to every citizen – digital evidence management is a solution worth investing in.