In law enforcement agencies, property and evidence (P&E) management is a critical function that supports key investigative and legal processes.
P&E management also happens to be one of the more challenging functions in law enforcement. To start with, property can be just about anything, including weapons, cars, drugs, photographs and documents. This poses difficulties for the storage, organization and tracking of items. Then there is the fact that property can be admitted in both physical and electronic form, which compounds the management challenge.
While bar coding and scanning technologies make it easier to manage this hybrid P&E environment, these tools are only as good as the foundation they are built on. To be effective, P&E systems must be grounded in the fundamentals of records management.
Strong parallels between records and P&E
Records management is all about storing, securing, tracking and managing access to corporate records. If you replace the term “corporate records” with “property”, this provides a good definition for P&E room management.
Given the similarities between the two processes, their requirements for a technology solution are also remarkably similar. In fact, when you look at the official requirements for P&E management systems (as outlined by the Law Enforcement Information Technology Standards Council), they could equally be describing either type of system:
- Capturing descriptive information about each item, including its source
- Ability to create links to related items and other documents tracked within the system
- Storage of historical information about the custody and control of items
- Tracking the current status and location of items
- Providing proof that chain-of-custody requirements are being met
- Support for the disposition of items according to triggering events or the passage of time
- Maintenance of a disposition history for a specified time period (in order to support future investigations)
- Support for both physical and electronic items
How RM fundamentals help with P&E
The similarities are clear – but they are more than just an interesting parallel. What is really important to note is the extent to which P&E management is directly connected to records management fundamentals. In other words, the two go hand in hand.
This fact explains why so many P&E solutions fall short. For example, while basic bar code and scanning solutions do a good job keeping track of the items of property themselves, they fail to address the critical linkage to associated records.
The only complete solution is a suite of software and hardware tools that are grounded in records management methodologies. On this foundation, law enforcement agencies are able to seamlessly manage the lifecycle of P&E items as well as their associated paper and electronic records, such as case files. Without such a foundation, agencies end up with one management silo for property and another for documents. This makes it very difficult to meet the entire range of chain-of-custody requirements.
For law enforcement agencies, the takeaway is start thinking about P&E management from standpoint of records management. From there, the right solutions will follow.