The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) processes over 25,000 crime scenes annually. In fact, in 2007 alone the Photo Lab acquired and archived over 1 million digital photographs from field crime scene investigators (CSI’s). That number is predicted to grow by 50% every year.
When Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, or even its it’s television namesake, Las Vegas CSI, come to mind, so do cutting edge technologies and amazing gadgets. One look inside the LVMPD’s photo lab would confirm these thoughts. In fact, the one thing you would never guess by looking at the lab today is that several years ago there was not a digital camera to be found in LVMPD. Until only a few short years ago, the LVMPD was still shooting their crime scenes with traditional film. The revolution of digital photography brings law enforcement agencies across the nation a certain amount of apprehension as they look for solutions to manage the ever-increasing amount of critical, evidentiary photography. Today, with audio and video recordings clearing their own path into the digital world, this evidence is even more abundant, and requires careful management. In addition to photographs and prints, agencies are required to retain audio and video files from interview rooms, in-car systems, an array of surveillance systems and even handheld devices.
While one would assume that this transition is easier for larger agencies, the fact is that the larger the agency, the tougher the transition. As with any other police operation, volume only magnifies the problem. The larger the Department or the more crime there is, the more evidence exists and the more people required to handle that evidence. This all adds up to more margins for error. Things that might go smoothly within a smaller department could literally cause havoc in a larger agency.
When the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department decided it was time to make the move to digital photography, they knew that just like film, the evidentiary integrity of these digital images must be maintained at all times. They knew that without SOP’s in place, there was no way to manage this process, and hold others accountable for their actions. They also knew that the transition to digital would require precision. That it needed proper planning and coordination, and that it could not start with the cameras. Cameras seem to be the logical place to begin a departments transition to digital. An agency has some extra funding, and purchases camera equipment for Patrol Officers or Crime Scene Investigators. Sounds good so far, right? But what happens next is the real problem, and typically, that’s not much. The evidence is burned to CD’s or copied to a hard drive somewhere in the department. But, how is the integrity and authenticity of the images managed? How is chain of custody handled for the evidence? What are the proper procedures to ensure the evidence is maintained in compliance with the appropriate standards? In many cases, these questions go unanswered. Fortunately, after much research, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department turned to Linear Systems. Together, Linear Systems and the LVPMD worked to configure and implement a customized DIMS (Digital Information Management Solution) System that would essentially create and enforce the Departments SOP’s and manage the entire workflow of their digital evidence, from collection and authentication, to indexing, printing, CD/DVD production and data archival.
With DIMS, the moment a Las Vegas CSI returns from a scene, the card from the digital camera is removed, and placed in a card reader in one of their digital download stations. The Investigator inputs their badge number, the case number and other required information associated with the digital evidence. From there, DIMS manages the rest. The DIMS System essentially forces compliance with the agencies SOP’s by automatically collecting and authenticating the data. DIMS does this with complete logging and chain of custody control, a full database including multiple search parameters, and centralized printing, disc publishing and email capabilities. The CSI’s can export images to Photoshop, perform any necessary enhancement, and then re-import them back into the system. Examiners can even lift latent print images and export them in an AFIS compatible format right from their DIMS system.
DIMS was customized to enforce LVMPD’s policies and procedures, and continues to save the department time and money through automation. Web-based access to the DIMS system with multi-level user rights ensures that only the appropriate people have access to the evidence, which in turn increases the security of the information, and facilitates efficient internal communications. In addition, since evidence collected and processed with a chain of custody is more reliable, it reduces challenges to their credibility. With the authenticity and reliability of forensic evidence being questioned all to often by everyone from the National Academy of Science to members of the media, the time is now to take control over digital evidence and the policies and procedures surrounding it.
Today, the DIMS System continues to enable the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to rise to the challenge and manage millions of digital photographs without losing a single one. Though their initial interest in the system was photography, just like digital technologies, LVMPD’s system continues to evolve to manage year after year of images, as well as audio and video evidence, and has to date been upgraded to over 24 Terabytes of storage!
So what’s the best part of the DIMS system? The department would have a tough time answering that question, but will tell you that the most overlooked element is that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, as well as many other agencies throughout the nation purchased their entire system through grant funding. With budgetary cuts and layoffs nationwide, new technologies, no matter how necessary they may seem, are simply not an option. Fortunately, there is an abundance of grant funding available in 2009, and this needs to be leveraged. Since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009, more than $4.5 billion dollars were allocated to assist State, Local and Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies. Departments of all sizes are eligible for portions of this funding, and like LVMPD, can use it to implement DIMS systems and ease the pain of the digital transition.  “The revolution of digital photography brings law enforcement agencies across the nation a certain amount of apprehension as they look for solutions to manage the ever-increasing amount of critical, evidentiary photography.”