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Baker Police Dept. Finds Solid Evidence of RFID's Effectiveness

The Louisiana agency is using passive UHF tags and readers to manage evidence stored within its vault, ensuring that nothing goes missing, and also plans to employ the technology to track equipment assigned to police cars.
By Claire Swedberg
Dec 29, 2014

Louisiana's Baker Police Department has achieved sufficient benefits from a radio frequency identification system it has been using for two and a half years to track evidence, that it is now preparing to expand the technology's use to track items within its 40 police vehicles. Although no date has yet been set to launch the expansion, Assistant Chief Randall Dunaway says he intends to see it go live within the next year or so. With this expansion to its existing RFID system, the police department will be able to more easily document the assigning of devices, such as laptops, fire extinguishers, rifles and other items, to a specific patrol car, and to conduct fast, definitive audits of the vehicles in order to ensure that nothing ends up missing. The evidence-tracking solution was provided and installed by C&A Associates, based in Louisiana.

In 2012, Dunaway says, he first began speaking with C&A representatives about the RFID technology the company offers, and how it could be used to track evidence. At that time, he explains, he had already upgraded the Baker PD's manual paper-and-pen-based evidence room-management system to one utilizing bar coding. However, he notes, the bar-code solution still had limitations.

Assistant Chief Randall Dunaway
"If I have a bad day," Dunaway says, "and I misplace a piece of evidence on the wrong shelf," such a mistake could lead to hours spent searching for that item, whether or not it had a bar-code label on it. RFID, he realized, could solve that problem.

When materials are part of a crime-scene investigation, they end up in a vault as "evidence" that is managed by local police departments like the Baker PD. How those items are managed can vary widely between agencies, however. In most cases, they are tracked manually, according to Matthew Moss, C&A Associates' vice president. The company, which has been providing software to the financial industry for 25 years, entered the RFID arena in 2008, and one of its niches is now in evidence tracking.

Moss says that after he met Dunaway during a local golf tournament, C&A began developing the evidence-tracking solution, working closely with the Baker Police Department and two other unnamed law-enforcement agencies to learn about current evidence-tracking procedures, and how to design a system that would be easy to use and reliable. Approximately 85 percent of procedures are the same at all county and local police agencies throughout the United States, he reports, while the other 15 percent would require customization at each site—typically, involving such details as numbering systems for pieces of evidence and case numbers.

C&A Associates filed for a patent in 2012, and then installed a trial deployment at the Baker Police Department. The Baker PD assigns each piece of evidence a case number—multiple pieces of evidence could have that same number—as well as its own unique identifier. An Alien Technology passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Squiggle tag is attached to each piece of evidence, and the tag's ID number is linked to that item's case and evidence numbers in C&A Associates' software.

C&A installed a fixed ALR-9900 Alien reader at the entrance to the Baker PD's evidence vault, and also provided an ALH-9010 handheld reader. The police department attached 10,000 tags to as many pieces of evidence, ranging from envelopes to large objects, and listed the assigned shelf location for each tag ID number in C&A's PADTrax software in a computer used in the evidence room. Each staff member authorized to enter that room was also given an ID badge containing its own Squiggle tag, the ID number of which was linked to that officer's name in the software.

According to Moss, Alien Technology provided considerable assistance in identifying the proper hardware and its appropriate installation. "They were very helpful to us," he says, "and continue to share our vision for the future of the PADtrax product line."

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