Texas PD closes more cases with integrated evidence management
Integration of physical and digital evidence makes it easier for officers, detectives and evidence managers to share critical information
Sponsored by QueTel
By Rachel Zoch, Police1 BrandFocus Staff
Successful prosecution of crimes depends on solid evidence management, but too many police departments are juggling multiple legacy systems. That was the case for police in San Marcos, Texas, until the agency adopted the TraQ Suite evidence management platform from QueTel.
Tracy Engler, crime scene evidence supervisor, said the QueTel system has made a tremendous difference in officer productivity and the department’s ability to share evidence with prosecutors.
MERGING SEPARATE EVIDENCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
When Engler joined the department in 2008, they were using a combination of paper and a computer spreadsheet for tracking evidence. Much of the evidence management was not computerized at all, and overall the system was disorganized.
“You knew what you had, but you didn’t know what you didn’t have,” she said. “So we started looking around for some way to consolidate everything into one system. We looked at a bunch of different software systems and we came up with QueTel.”
Engler and her colleagues liked that the QueTel system was easy to use and came with the option to add the digital evidence management module. Particularly attractive was the ability to do inventory through the system to see what evidence the department had, what it didn’t and what was missing – a capability they didn’t have prior to implementing the automated system.
San Marcos PD started using QueTel’s evidence management software in 2012. In early 2016, they added the mobile application.
“What we liked about that was being able to share that information with our district attorney’s offices,” Engler said. “Instead of having to copy transcribed interviews for them, we could just give them access to the digital file and they could listen for themselves. It actually cut down a lot of workload.”
SAVING OFFICERS TIME WITH A MOBILE APP
QueTel’s Officer Wizard allows officers to enter their own evidence in the field and submit it electronically. Officers appreciate not having to drive to a station to enter evidence, says Engler.
“They can upload from the field without having to actually come to the department and upload a digital file,” she said. “We just made it a little easier for them.”
Previously, officers would have to come to the station to give evidence staff all the information on a piece of paper, and then evidence staff would have to do the data entry.
“The app has allowed the officers to do it a little quicker, which of course increases the time that they can be out on the street,” Engler said. “For evidence staff, that was pretty huge because we were basically sitting there having to type what officers had already written by hand. So that freed up a lot more time that allowed us to work on other things, like case dispositions.”
She also says that officers love using the mobile app for photographs because they can take photos directly in the app and upload them with the touch of a single button instead of having to return to the station, download the photos from the device and then upload them to the system.
Photos taken in the QueTel mobile app are encrypted, another benefit.
“When you take the photograph through the app as compared to the camera on your phone, it’s automatically encrypted, uploaded and then removed from your phone,” Engler said. “That’s a huge advantage of the mobile app and why we try to get them to do it through the app. You don’t want those pictures still on your phone because it could be subpoenaed.”
CLEANING UP THE EVIDENCE ROOM AND EXPUNGING RECORDS
Engler says being able to do a thorough inventory is probably the biggest advantage of adopting QueTel’s evidence management system.
Another big advantage is the lack of paper. Digitizing the records and automating the management functions cut back drastically on the physical objects they had to keep track of.
“We don’t keep paper copies anymore,” she said. “Everything is stored on the cloud, so that cut back on a lot of the quantity of evidence, because before we were keeping copies of those paper statements. We were keeping CDs of interviews, which increased our physical evidence load, and we were able to do away with all that.”
Accumulation of evidence can be as much of a problem as keeping track of it, and Engler says QueTel made adjustments to its evidence management software to help the department manage expungement.
“When we do the expungements we have to completely remove any trace of that person’s name from the record,” she said. “QueTel figured out a way to be able to remove that out of the item history.”
WORKING WITH QUETEL
Engler appreciates the responsiveness of QueTel when it comes to adding features suggested by their law enforcement customers. The company is currently working on a mobile document scanner to enable officers to scan evidence like a victim statement using a smartphone in the field and upload it remotely to the evidence management system.
“QueTel asked for our input on several things, and one of the things that we talked about was that we’d like the addition of that mobile scanner,” she said. “They’ve been pretty receptive.”
Department staff don’t have to install or maintain any software, because the system is web-based, and QueTel pushes regular updates for maintenance.
The software is available in per-user licenses, and the system is rolled out to the entire force.
“Our whole department has the mobile application,” said Engler. “We all have city-issued phones, and we make sure that everybody has that.”
In addition, the system allows read-only access to the district attorney’s office so they don’t have to request something and wait for evidence staff to send copies.
“We run a lot more effectively now that we have everything in one system,” said Engler. “Officers don’t have to come to me and ask, what evidence do we have on this case? They have the ability to pull that up and look that up themselves. Everybody’s on the same page now.”