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Dutch Forensics Lab Tracks Evidence With RFID

The Dutch Forensic Institute (NFI) tracks crime scene evidence in real time using RFID, providing complete chain-of-custody documentation to authorities.
Oct 23, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

October 23, 2008—RFID is helping authorities in The Netherlands provide real-time evidence tracking and chain-of-custody documentation. The Dutch Forensic Institute (NFI), which manages evidence from police departments throughout The Netherlands, has deployed a solution that allows item-level tracking of hundreds of thousands of items during forensic analysis and processing at its facilities in The Hague.

"The NFI wanted a closed-loop system to provide a clear chain of custody," said Alexander de Wilde, RFID Competence Manager at Atos Origin, the Paris-based systems integrator that implemented the system. "They will know where each piece of evidence was at all times, and that only authorized personnel handled the material."

Atos developed the system using GlobeRanger's iMotion software platform and Edgeware servers, RFID tags from Alien Technology, and interrogators and antennas from Feig Electronic. Woerden-based Phi Data served as Atos' integration partner on the project.

While the system uses EPC Gen2 RFID tags, the NFI uses its own proprietary numbering system.

The track-and-trace program was developed in cooperation with the NFI, the police departments, and the Public Prosecution Service (OM) to meet new government standards requiring all pieces of criminal evidence (SVOs) to be traceable and identifiable. The standards were created after an investigative committee set up by the government determined that misuse of scientific evidence had resulted in a number of wrongful convictions.

"In the past, if evidence was mishandled it could result in a mistrial or the wrong person being sent to jail," de Wilde said. "Now, they will be able to document that, for instance, the gun they are holding in court is the same one found at the crime scene, that certain tests were performed on it, and that it was never anywhere near another piece of evidence that may have contaminated it."

Each piece of evidence is put inside a plastic bag, and tagged upon arrival at the NFI facility with an RFID label that also includes human-readable and bar code information. The label includes a unique number (called a SIN number) that ties the item to a specific criminal case.

Fifty doors within the facility have been equipped with RFID readers and antennas to instantly track and log the movement of each piece of evidence. Workers also scan their RFID security badges as they enter each secure area, providing a record of which employee moved each piece of evidence.

This data is updated in real time and made available for online viewing. If evidence travels outside designated areas, or is taken out of the building, the system triggers audible and visible alarms. GlobeRanger's Edgeware Server filters and interprets the reader data, and controls the warning lamps and buzzers.

Using the traceability data, the NFI is able to provide complete chain-of-custody information, as well as documentation proving that items from separate cases did not cross-contaminate each other.

NFI had previously used bar code labels to track evidence, but the system provided only limited traceability because it required employee intervention to manually scan and note when an item was moved. With RFID, whole cartloads of evidence can be automatically scanned as they enter and leave a room or department.

NFI receives and tags approximately 100,000 items each year, and houses an average of 400,000 pieces of evidence at any given time. According to Atos, the organization is expected to generate more than 800,000 tag reads annually.

Eventually, local police departments will be able to apply the RFID tracking labels at a crime scene when evidence is first collected. De Wilde says that the NFI is working with The Netherlands' 26 police districts to streamline this process, as each district uses a different numbering system for evidence.

"They will eventually be able to print the labels themselves or buy pre-printed labels, but they have to use the same numbering system," de Wilde said.

Atos and Phi Data are also developing a portal scanner that will automatically read the RFID tags and photograph evidence as it arrives at the NFI building. "That way, they will have a record of what condition the evidence was in when it entered the building," de Wilde added.

Atos began developing the system in the spring of 2007, and it officially began operation earlier in October. The Dutch Ministry of Justice, which oversees the operation of the NFI, has some previous experience working with RFID, having deployed an inmate tracking system at a minimum-security facility in Lelystad.
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