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Travis County Fire Marshall Uses RFID to Manage Evidence

The Austin, Texas, agency is employing both passive and active RFID tags to inventory and secure evidence in active and archived investigations.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 24, 2008The Travis County Fire Marshall in Austin, Texas, is employing RFID to manage 2,500 items of evidence. The office is utilizing the Clues system, provided by Intelligentz, to monitor the location of each piece of evidence for active cases, as well as those for archived cases up to 10 years old.

Some of these items are stored in the agency's office, while others are sent to multiple labs during investigations. Tony Calloway and Tate Markey, deputy chiefs at the Travis County Fire Marshall's office, described the system at last week's RFID Journal LIVE! 2008 conference in Las Vegas.

Tony Calloway
The agency investigates fire-related events including arson, accidental fires and explosions. In the past, when a case was under investigation, the office staff salvaged such evidence as cigarette butts, gas cans and matchsticks at the scene, manually writing data about each item, which was then stored in plastic or paper bags, or metal containers. Upon reaching the office, the items were placed in the evidence room. Employees maintained a written record for each object, indicating, for instance, which case it was connected to and when it was taken from the evidence room to a lab.

Travis County kept an Excel spreadsheet to track the items, Calloway told attendees. But over the past few years, Texas has extended its statute of limitations on the prosecution of arson and other crimes from five years to seven, then to 10, and the office began having trouble tracking all of the active and archived evidence.

Calloway said he and Markey believed his organization's records-tracking system was antiquated compared with those employed by other agencies around the country, so the two began searching for technology solutions about one year ago. What they found with some research, however, was that most other offices and laboratories were no more advanced than their own when it came to tracking evidence.

"We contacted other agencies to see what they were doing," Calloway said, adding that he found that nearly every office had the same problems he and Markey faced. One, however—the South Padre Islands Police Department—was working with RFID solutions vendor Intelligentz, and recommended that the county do the same. The police department there holds a large volume of seized narcotics as evidence, and Intelligentz was providing an RFID solution that alerted police if anyone attempted to move an item.

After meeting with Noel Arredondo, VP of Intelligentz's government division, Calloway was convinced RFID would offer a superior solution to bar coding. Intelligentz provided software and integration services for the Travis County deployment, installing a fixed Motorola EPC Gen 2 XR 400 interrogator and four Motorola AN 400 antennas at the doorway. Intelligentz also deployed an RF Code RFID reader in the back wall of the evidence room for reading active 433 MHz RFID tags.

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