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Bode Technology Launches RFID System to Track DNA Evidence

The DNA analysis company is using a system it designed, enabling it to automatically track specimens as they move through storage and analysis, thus ensuring an electronic record is maintained regarding where the evidence has been and who has used it.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 08, 2010Bode Technology, one of the world's largest DNA analysis firms, is piloting an RFID system it developed to manage DNA evidence as it passes through a supply chain, that includes storage and analysis in the laboratory. If the pilot—held at the company's Virginia lab—goes well, Bode Technology plans to deploy the system for 50,000 or more pieces of evidence annually as they move through the company's facility. To date, says Randy Nagy, Bode's sales and marketing VP, the system is reducing the time spent manually recording information about the specimens and their movement through the site, and provides a better, more accurate record of where each specimen has been, and who has been handling it.

The company is marketing the system, known as Bode-RFID, to law-enforcement agencies, for use in tracking physical evidence such as weapons, as well as DNA evidence. This, Nagy says, is being done in order to create and maintain an electronic record of a sample's movement from a crime scene through testing and storage, with data that could be used in a courtroom if the courts, for example, required proof of where the evidence had been, and when. The system is designed to be flexible (it can be set up to track evidence at specific locations chosen by a user, such as at a crime scene or storage area, or in off-site labs). What's more, it can act as a module to the existing Laboratory Information Management (LIM) system Bode sells, which stores and manages data regarding evidence for municipal, state and federal agencies.

In Bode's evidence room, an employee uses a handheld RFID reader to find a specific piece of evidence.
When evidence is gathered, it is typically placed in a paper bag, box or DNA kit, and a unique reference number is assigned to that specimen, either printed in the form of a bar code on an adhesive label attached to the bag, or manually written on the bag using a marker. Approximately 40 percent of law-enforcement agencies currently employ bar-coded labels, while the rest utilize the manual, handwritten method. Often, a law-enforcement official creates a paper manifest with the same reference number, along with details related to that specimen. That manifest then accompanies the specimen when it is shipped to a forensics company, such as Bode, or to an in-house laboratory. The law-enforcement official at the crime scene—and, afterward, the agency or lab staff members handling the evidence—typically put their initials on the paperwork to provide a trail documenting which personnel worked with those samples. Multiple pieces of evidence are often recorded on a manifest, in order to link specimens from the same crime scene, such as several articles of blood-stained clothing. This system is time-consuming, however, and in the case of handwritten reference numbers, there is always the risk that an agency employee creating the manifest could transpose the numbers or otherwise make mistakes.

Another shortcoming with the manual system, according to Andrew Singer, Bode Technology's senior product manager, is that workers handling the sample may fail to add their initials to the evidence or paper manifest. Consequently, it is not always clear who has been handling a particular sample. In other cases, a piece of evidence can go unnoticed—in the trunk of a car, for instance—but if an RFID system were used at the time that evidence was collected, that type of error would be documented electronically, because a record would be stored in the back-end system indicating the date and time a specimen was gathered, along with any subsequent procedures that may have occurred, including receipt into storage or movement to a lab for testing.

Bode Technology watched RFID technology prices drop, and the demand for such a solution increase, until last year, when it determined that an RFID solution would be saleable. At that point, the firm developed Bode-RFID, which includes the company's existing LIM system, as well as its RFID-based software (developed in partnership with RFID Global Solution), to interpret RFID numbers as they are read, along with the location and time of read events—all of which is then stored in the LIM system. Bode-RFID will also provide hardware such as tags, readers and printers, according to customers' specific needs.

Bode Technology decided to first test the system at its own site in Virginia, in order to gather time-saving metrics. Last week, employees began tagging and tracking all new evidence coming from a handful of customers—government agencies that agreed to have their samples tagged and tracked while at the company's facility. Initially, only Bode Technology will use the RFID read data for its own purposes—to automate the tracking of each specimen's arrival, testing and storage, as well as who handled that evidence at any given time. However, that information could also be requested from the agencies in the event, for instance, that it is required for a trial.

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