- Photo: getty/PeopleImages

Photo: getty/PeopleImages

The challenges faced by law enforcement agencies are numerous. The public might consider protecting officers and catching the bad guys to be the biggest problems you face, but that’s not necessarily true.

When Alonzo Thompson, chief of the Spartanburg (SC) Police Department, testified in front of the House Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations, he identified areas of concern such as domestic terrorism, gangs, illegal narcotics, gun violence, social media, and highway safety issues as some of the most critical challenges faced by law enforcement. And when the National Institute of Justice convened a chiefs’ panel to discuss challenges confronting law enforcement, that panel identified these issues: responding to technological changes; protecting officers’ safety and health; training, development, and management, information sharing and use, navigating public-private boundaries, agency preparedness for cyber threats, measuring driver impairment from marijuana, opioids, and other drugs; and forging trust between police and the community

The Problem

The list of challenges facing law enforcement is clearly extensive. Once the NIJ panel had identified the topics above, their underlying concerns were then ranked in order of importance. Not surprisingly, the issue that ranked as the number one priority for police chiefs was that law enforcement is challenged by growing volumes of digital evidence. Chiefs highlighted the fact that officer and investigator time spent in police stations was going up because officers were spending more time writing reports and reviewing and chasing evidence. This meant officers had less time to spend out on the street protecting the public. Chiefs on the panel identified the need to develop systems that automate and accelerate the review of evidence and generation of reports.

That panel was convened in 2018 and now, three years later, law enforcement is still faced with the same issue, except that the volume of digital evidence has grown at unprecedented rates. Industry experts estimate that 80% of evidence involved in an investigation is now digital. So, the strain on law enforcement resources remains ever present, with case backlogs growing, case resolution times expanding, budgets being impacted, collaboration being hampered and public safety at risk.

In today’s policing environments, the amount of digital evidence continues to grow, both in type and in size. Digital evidence now includes call logs, incident reports, images from officer-worn body cams and patrol car dash cams, cell phone evidence, computer evidence, arrest reports, and corrections systems records to name a few. Additionally, in today’s policing world, even physical evidence often produces digital evidence. For example, blood splatter or DNA analysis may produce images or reports that become evidence, or crime scene diagrams can become investigative evidence.

Law enforcement agencies find themselves needing digital evidence management solutions that can ingest, store, process, analyze, review, and share massive amounts of digital evidence that exists in a variety of formats, all while maintaining complete evidence chain of custody. In today’s digital world, there’s also the issue of providing a forum for the public to submit evidence from their mobile devices and, depending on the case, have access to authorized evidence.

Multiple Systems

As noted in the NIJ chiefs’ panel, there are technological issues to be considered. Does the system have the ability to validate evidence as to its original condition during the ingestion process, create a forensically sound duplicate, and ensure all of the files on the respective media are checked for viruses or malware? Will the system be able to ensure the integrity and validity of the evidence remains intact throughout the evidentiary lifecycle? Can the evidence be encrypted for increased security? Does the system provide the ability to set retention policies and customize workflows? Does the user (or evidence custodian) have the ability to log into their workspace to determine if workflows, tasks, or other notifications requiring action arepresent?

There are other issues to consider. Systems need to have the adequate amount of storage capacity to deal with terabytes of data and enough processing power needs to be available to access, manage, and share the evidence. System users need to be able to create, search, view, and share case files. Authorized parties need to be able to comment on evidence in order to draw the appropriate conclusions and “connect the dots.” Users of the digital evidence management system need to be able to search, review, and identify relevant video and audio evidence, view, comment on, and redact document files and incorporate digital forensic evidence from a variety of different sources.

Ideally, the system also provides the ability to create and distribute a package of evidence for prosecution. There are also questions to consider about the optimal deployment method, whether it is on premise, in the cloud, or a hybrid model. There are significant cost implications associated with duplicating evidence files, transporting them to interested third parties, and/or having to wait for a technical specialist to conduct a second or third analysis of the digital evidence as the investigation progresses and new facts are uncovered.

There are systems out there today that address some of these needs. However, these are most often disparate systems that manage either media evidence, document evidence, or digital forensic evidence individually and lack comprehensive case management capability.

Some agencies may have as many as 12 different systems to manage all of this evidence. Those tasked with managing the evidence are then faced with the time, money, and resource expenses of administering, supporting, and training personnel on all of these different systems. The process is inefficient and time consuming and makes collaboration on evidence difficult at best. It becomes a significant, if not impossible, challenge for law enforcement to draw the right conclusions and share their evidence and conclusions with relevant parties quickly, accurately and effectively.

A Single Solution

What law enforcement agencies need is a single digital evidence management system that lets officers store, process, analyze, report on, and share a variety of different types of evidence associated with a case, all within a single framework.

Perhaps the best way to think of this is like a hamburger. It’s unlikely that you would order a hamburger one piece at a time at a restaurant… the burger, the bun, the pickles, the lettuce, and so on. It’s simply not an efficient way to order your burger. Instead, you order the McDonalds Big Mac, or the Wendy’s Bacon Classic Cheeseburger. It’s simple, it’s quick, it’s clear, and it’s efficient.

With all the pressures facing law enforcement and police chiefs, a comprehensive digital evidence management system that manages video evidence, document evidence, and digital forensic evidence all within a single solution is going to save time, money, and resources and bring cases to closure faster, improving both public safety and public perception.

My company, OpenText, has been delivering industry-leading investigative solutions to law enforcement, government agencies, and corporations for nearly 25 years under the EnCase and Tableau Forensic brand names. With hundreds of years of law enforcement experience on our team, investigative solutions implemented in thousands of policing, government agencies and corporations around the globe, and the recognition of being an industry leader in information management, there is no better place to turn for a comprehensive digital evidence management solution that will help you reduce your case backlogs, close cases faster, improve the efficiency of investigations, reduce the impact to your budgets, and improve case collaboration.

You can learn more about OpenText Digital Evidence Center at https://security.opentext.com/solutions/digital-evidence-management.  

Peri Storey, Sr., is senior product marketing manager for OpenText.

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