Crime laboratories and forensic units play an integral role in public safety by supporting investigations and court proceedings. These teams work diligently to collect and examine evidence from crime scenes. They apply various scientific methods, such as DNA and latent print analysis, to provide valuable insights about an incident or case. The complexity and volume of evidence has increased over time while the public is also requesting more transparency from public safety groups. These factors have put considerable strain on many crime labs and forensic units, especially if they are relying on manual and siloed processes. In this blog, we’ll explore how technology designed for laboratory management can help alleviate these challenges, as well as what solutions are available to help better track evidence, and even laboratory materials.
Why is Forensic Laboratory Management Technology Needed Today?
In the past, as with many industries, crime laboratories and forensic units relied on many manual processes, emails, or standalone software to manage their operations and evidence. These traditional methods are often labor-intensive tasks that require a significant amount of effort and risk. Here's a glimpse into a few of the manual processes:
Evidence Documentation: evidence was documented on paper forms, and each piece was assigned a unique identifier. This identifier, often in the form of a numerical code, was written on the evidence container and recorded in handwritten logbooks.
Case Management and Records: paper-based systems were used for case management, record-keeping, and documentation of analyses. Each case would have physical files containing notes, reports, and evidence documentation.
Communication and Reporting: collaboration between forensic experts, law enforcement, and the court system relied on letters, in-person meetings, emails, and telephone conversations. Reports were typewritten or handwritten.
Data Retrieval: traditional methods relied heavily on manual record-keeping systems, including paper-based files and handwritten notes. This made it time-consuming and error-prone to retrieve specific pieces of information from vast amounts of data that were needed to make relevant management decisions.
Solutions for laboratory management have helped to bridge this gap between manual methods and current needs. These tools support improved evidence management, expedited processing, compliance with quality assurance standards, and streamlined collaboration.
The Ways Modern Technology Improves Laboratory Performance
The integration of management applications into forensic laboratories has helped them improve performance, efficiency, and compliance. These applications range from evidence to case to inventory management.
One example is Laboratory Information Management Systems, or LIMS. These advanced applications serve as a central hub for coordinating and streamlining various operations and help to maintain efficiency, accuracy, and reliability throughout the laboratory. For example, Versaterm’s JusticeTrax LIMS-plus offers a unique scope of laboratory management as the software tracks items such as case information, evidence transfers, requests for analysis, and final reports. Using such tools, case assignments for analysts can be viewed prior to assigning additional work, while all current and historical data is maintained so users can actively generate metrics, such as determining bottlenecks in their workflows and statistics on incoming evidence, that assist in making the best decisions. The chain of custody is also monitored through constant data tracking to reduce inconsistencies and make sure relevant evidence isn’t thrown out, helping ensure that justice is achieved. Overall, LIMS help to reduce errors by promoting consistency, data integrity, and quality assurance throughout the entire workflow.
Another area within forensic operations where modern technology can help is inventory management. Applications, such as Versaterm’s JusticeTrax CIMS, transform this process by optimizing how the stocks of raw chemicals, prepared reagents, and other consumables are managed. Inventory management solutions such as this contribute to improved workflow through creating a more organized laboratory environment and optimizing resource utilization. This organization can save time and money by reducing the instances of having to wait for refills or paying for expedited shipping.
The Future of Laboratory Management
As the types and volumes of evidence continue to evolve, crime laboratory and forensic unit management must continue to be adaptable. Modern applications help your lab be good stewards of funding through the efficient use of resources while maintaining the highest standards and compliance. Transitioning from manual processes helps your team focus on what really matters, outcomes, instead of managing paperwork and information in siloed systems.