Law and Order: Police Evidence Rooms Learn from Warehouse Tech

Law and Order: Police Evidence Rooms Learn from Warehouse Tech

Police work is primarily focused outside the police station, in the community, and that’s as it should be. There’s a satisfaction, even a glamor, to being out on the streets keeping the community safe and secure. This outward focus sometimes means that the station itself – the place of dull paperwork and desk jobs – suffers from a lack of public attention and administrative funding. Support facilities like evidence storage and property rooms may lag behind other state-of-the-art policing technology, and that can mean the efforts of front-line police work may be rendered fruitless when a case goes to trial with missing or inadmissible evidence.

Public safety expert Kathy Marks, writing in Law and Order Magazine, interviewed current and former police officers regarding the need for better evidence storage and property room technology. A good inventory system was their Number One recommendation, a system that could identify and track every item connected to a case. Missing evidence or a broken chain of custody will derail an otherwise strong criminal case.

Just as important, the interviewees reported, was a system that could schedule the return, destruction, or retention of each item. Even when a police department has a carefully maintained intake inventory system, a backlog of outdated, unneeded evidence and property take up valuable – and scarce – storage space. Overcrowded storage inevitably leads to the damage or loss of some items, increasing the challenge of making a case.

The outward-facing side of police work has for some time employed technology to make the job safer and more efficient, with everything from smart duty lockers to mobile laptop and tablet charging stations. Now the administrative side is getting its own tech applications, particularly for managing the inventories of the evidence and property rooms. Commonly used in warehousing and logistics, bar coding and RFID technologies are proving especially useful in public safety settings. Easy-to-generate bar codes identify individual items, and RFID tags provide locational tracking information as well as identification. Coupled with space-saving high-density mobile shelving for property, and secure transfer and storage lockers for evidence, these automated inventory systems maintain a clear chain of custody and keep the storage footprint manageable.

Written policies and procedures are also an important part of a well-run evidence and property rooms. Marks’ interview subjects emphasized that managing property and evidence isn’t for everyone. People with a warehouse inventory background or military quartermaster experience tend to excel in the management of police evidence and property rooms.

Good management of property and evidence storage plays a vital role in law and order. With the right combination of personnel and technology, this undervalued sector of public safety can be a big contributor to the criminal justice system.

 

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RFID: Why It’s Not the Same as a Bar Code

RFID: Why It’s Not the Same as a Bar Code

Everyone knows what a bar code is – we can’t forget the commercial showing bank customers with bar codes on their foreheads – but the workflow and inventory management benefits of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology aren’t as well known. Like bar codes, RFID tags contain information about the item they’re attached to. No doubt you have seen those large plastic tags clipped on apparel in retail stores, and seen them removed by cashiers at the time of purchase – those are RFID tags, and they help the store manage inventory. But RFID tags also come in much smaller versions, like the one pictured here, and they can be affixed to everything from shipping boxes to artworks, tools, furniture, weapons, and even office file folders or individual documents. They’re inconspicuous, easy to apply, and last for 50 years.

The technological difference between RFID and bar codes is this: Like books or newspapers, bar codes are printed in ink, and must be visually read by an electronic scanner. RFID tags, by contrast, are essentially tiny radio transmitters, bouncing a signal back to an RFID reader just the way your favorite radio station relays a signal to your car radio. The RFID signal contains unique identifying information about the item the tag is attached to.

On the surface, RFID may not seem to offer any advantages over bar codes. Nevertheless, Walmart, Macy’s, and other retailers turned to RFID for a very good reason: Labor costs. Their inventory management systems were based on bar codes, and the bar code scanner had to “see” the bar code. Because it couldn’t see around corners or through walls, every item in a stockroom or warehouse had to be manually turned toward the reader – a time-consuming labor-intensive process. And labor is expensive.

The radio signals of an RFID tag, however, can be “grabbed” by an RFID reader without the reader ever having to see the tag. As long as the reader is in proximity to the tag (same room or same building), it receives the information from the RFID tag via radio waves, without any need to handle the inventory. In effect, the RFID reader can see around corners, or through a stack of boxes, or into a filing cabinet. The labor of inventory management becomes as simple as walking into a room.

RFID is a game-changer for any organization that needs to keep track of inventory or assets:

  • Facility managers know where every desk and chair is located without doing a room-to-room count.
  • Automobile manufacturers streamline workflows by tracking parts as vehicles move through the assembly line.
  • Museum curators are certain of which storeroom contains a particular collection, without having to open drawers or rummage through shelves.
  • Warehouse managers know exactly what a new shipment contains without having to open the boxes.
  • Paralegals locate critical documents in a law office without having to search through multiple files.

Bar code technology is far from obsolete, however. Bar codes are a proven solution for an array of situations in which labor costs are not such a big part of the inventory management calculus. But for many organizations, RFID offers productivity benefits that boost the bottom line.

As every manager and owner knows, inventory and asset management is vital to any successful enterprise. RFID will streamline your workflow and improve inventory accountability. Consult with an expert in inventory management and storage who can tell you if RFID or bar coding, or both, could be the right solution for your business.

 

Photo © metamorworks / AdobeStock

Built For First Responders: The Station Design Awards

Built For First Responders: The Station Design Awards

The Oscars and the Emmys may be better known, but the Station Design Awards, honoring outstanding fire station design, have a much more direct effect on communities across America. When fire stations are designed to support first responders’ wellbeing, communities benefit from better firefighting and EMT service. And when stations are designed to encourage interaction with the community, everyone benefits from better fire prevention awareness and involvement.

Fire stations present some unique design challenges, including:

  • equipment contaminated by hazardous materials encountered in fires
  • engines’ carbon monoxide exhaust intruding into fire station living areas
  • common areas that allow for multiple activities without noise or space conflicts
  • secure storage for bulky “turnout” protective gear, uniforms, and personal items
  • sleeping areas that promote good sleep habits for high-functioning first responders

Last year’s award winners came from all parts of the U.S., from Washington State to Texas to Ohio to South Carolina. The judges looked particularly at zone designs (separating contaminated “hot” zones from the “cold” zone of living areas); sleeping areas that balanced isolation against privacy needs; and fire station building security. In stations where interactions with the public are common, and even encouraged, any access to administrative and living areas still has to be controlled. Equipment, turnout gear, and firefighters’ personal property must be stored safely in cages and lockers.

Writing in Firehouse.com, Janet Wilmoth reviewed station design trends reported by architects involved in station design. In addition to green design and LEED certification, these design professionals are seeing more indoor recreation spaces – which help reduce stress and build camaraderie – and the addition of community rooms and small walk-in clinics which improve outreach to the neighborhoods served by these fire stations.

This year’s Station Design Awards will be announced in November. Best of luck to all the entrants, along with thanks to first responders everywhere for their service.

 

Photo © MonkeyBusiness / AdobeStock

Police Body Cameras are a Small Part of the Picture

Police Body Cameras are a Small Part of the Picture

Tazer is so well known for electric stun guns that its name, like Google’s, has morphed into a verb. (Just google “tazing.”) Yet it sees its future in the growth market of body cameras, and it’s changing its name from Tazer to Axon, its proprietary brand of body camera. With its new name, the former Tazer is signaling its move to dominate the body cam market. And with the name change, it’s making a hard-to-beat offer: body cameras and data storage free for a year.

The offer of free storage, even for just a year, is significant. The enormous volume of video data collected by body cams has created a storage headache for many police departments. No one attended the police academy expecting to be a data manager, and yet that’s what many public safety administrators are becoming. Industry experts estimate 10,000 hours of body cam video are generated each week just in the big cities of America. It’s a tremendous organizational and storage chore.

Police departments recognized the value of body cams as soon as the small cameras came on the market. Realizing that media storage would be an issue for police departments, Tazer quickly began offering its customers cloud-based storage for body cam videos. Public safety budgets soon included funds for cameras, but most departments hadn’t really considered the cost of storage, which quickly ballooned as the cameras were put into the field. Tazer (now Axon) established its first-year-free program so police departments could have some budgetary breathing room to prepare for the video storage requirements.

And in any discussion of police body cams, storage is really the challenge. Writing in the Associated Press, Rick Callahan points to a number of cities whose police have had to abandon body cam programs due to storage costs. Medium-size police departments, Callahan states, have the biggest storage challenges. They have too much data to store internally, and too little to qualify for large-scale discounts from cloud-storage vendors.

Even those police departments who manage their video data on internal servers find that their physical storage needs have increased. Backup drives and high-capacity data tapes take up space, and as Federal and state governments increase the length of time that video evidence must be retained, the amount of backup media continues to grow. Best-practices recommendations call for multiple backups stored in multiple locations, adding to the overall storage challenge.

For the police agencies in the U.S. who have not yet implemented a body cam program, as well as those who may be drowning in video data, now is the time to examine storage options. Data management experts advocate storing data on a variety of media – cloud servers, drives, and tape – all of which occupy physical space. An experienced storage consultant can offer a variety of choices for managing the physical media in a cost-effective, space-efficient manner.

Even with the challenge of data storage, body cams are swiftly becoming the norm. Police and the public agree that everyone benefits from a video record of events. The picture is clear: Body cams are here to stay.

 

Photo © aijohn784/Fotolia.com

More Challenges for Law Librarians

More Challenges for Law Librarians

Information is the foundation of the practice of law. The vast accumulated history of law transactions is what gives legal services its value. Applying all that information is what lawyers do. Managing the information falls on the shoulders of law librarians, often the unsung heroes of law practices.

That lack of recognition is beginning to change, however. Some firms feel their librarians’ work is so important that they have created a C-level position for it: Chief Knowledge Officer. And with enormous responsibility come equally large challenges. Beyond managing the current physical and electronic contents of a firm’s library, a CKO must consider the firm’s future information needs, forecasting how the firm’s strategic plan is going to shape the library’s contents.

This in turn influences the library’s spatial needs, and a CKO is fundamentally involved in analyzing space usage now and in the future. A library’s spatial needs presents unique challenges:

  • Organizing/Categorizing – Is the practice’s library organized into cases, codes, and comments, or is it organized by category, perhaps on different floors: family law, intellectual property law, trusts? Organization dictates the quantity and arrangement of shelving and filing, and a mobile high-density shelving system will maximize capacity and reduce the storage footprint.
  • Archiving– Librarians have a strong hoarding tendency, and law librarians are no exception. Case documents need a home for years to come, and may need to be accessed again in the future. How large, and how quickly, an archive will grow over time determines the amount of storage that will be needed down the road. An expandable storage system gives librarians the flexibility to respond to both anticipated and unexpected archiving needs.
  • Tracking – Paper documents have a way of migrating from desk to desk, and disappearing under stacks of other paper documents. When there are potentially hundreds of documents comprising a single case, it’s vital to know the whereabouts of each document. CKO’s can take a page from the retail and warehouse world, where automated inventory systems use RFID to enumerate and track assets. Specialized paper with embedded RFID fibers, and RFID tags for books and files, enable librarians to know how many documents they have, and where they are at any time.
  • Scanning – Despite the demand for hard copies in the legal profession, e-documents are a burgeoning part of the CKO’s responsibility. A Hybrid Tracking/Content Management system allows library staff to create digital content from scanning projects, on an ad hoc or even an as-needed basis. For very active filing systems, back file scanning conversions let firms quickly and cost-effectively scan significant amounts of paper files. A Hybrid Tracking/Content Management solution then allows the introduction of scanned files directly back to the system that managed them in physical form. And with e-documents come physical media storage needs – drives and tapes must be stored and tracked just like paper. As with paper documents, a mobile shelving system allows for expanded storage capacity within a restricted footprint.

CKO’s and their staff have a lot of information to sift through, organize and manage. Just in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), over 350,000 cases were filed in U.S. Federal courts alone. When it’s time to consider a space plan, CKO’s don’t have the bandwidth to add storage products to their research tasks. They can hand off that work to a qualified storage consultant who will make recommendations suited to the law firm’s one-of-a-kind space utilization needs.

 

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The Year in Review – A Storage Knowledgebase

The Year in Review – A Storage Knowledgebase

The new year is almost here, full of exciting possibilities and the fruition of well-executed plans. It’s also a great opportunity to consider the knowledge gained in the previous 365 days. With that in mind, here’s a selection of our most popular posts of 2016.

 

The Ultimate Document Management Guide

Tracking and storing reams of paper documents can be an exhausting paper chase, but with planning, consistency, and a great storage system, you can relax and get on with your business.

Fashion Designers’ Workplace Storage: An Update

How do design-conscious fashionistas incorporate great storage design into their workplaces? Here’s the low-down.

Your Cell Phone Is Zapping Your Self-Worth

Good posture leads to good self-esteem. With phones or with adaptive office furniture, take posture into account for better self-esteem, assertiveness, and productivity.

The Law of Unintended Consequences: Gun Storage

For safety, police are required to confiscate guns in cases of domestic violence complaints. But overcrowded, insecure gun storage in police property rooms then becomes a safety problem itself.

A Lab Design Space-Planning Checklist

Planning for future lab needs is always the most challenging part of any lab design space plan. Modular casework gives you flexibility for the future as well as usability for today’s needs.

 

We’re looking forward to assisting you in the New Year!

 

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