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Forensics Lab Piloting RFID System for Automated Supply Tracking

During the coming months, the Houston Forensic Science Center will expand the pilot to begin tracking firearms and biological evidence, as well as evidence regarding crime scenes, to reduce manual inventory labor and the risk of loss.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 18, 2017

Justice systems demand that every piece of forensic evidence gathered at a crime scene must be accurately stored, accessed and processed. Therefore, the agencies and companies that are responsible for that evidence use what can be exhaustive and often manual tracking methods. For laboratories such as the Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC), this can mean taking scientists away from the work they are there to do.

To make the management of its equipment and evidence automatic, HFSC is piloting an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) radio frequency identification system, initially to track lab equipment and supplies. In the long run, the same technology will automatically track and manage the locations of firearms, biological evidence and evidence collected at crime scenes. JPL RFID, a software and hardware integration company, provided the tags and readers, as well as its own software and database to manage the data, says Jason Pitcock, JPL's president.

JPL's Jason Pitcock
David Leach, a CPA and HFSC's chief financial officer and treasurer, presented the solution at the RFID Journal LIVE! conference and exhibition, held last month in Phoenix, Ariz. (see Award Finalists Session: Best RFID Implementation—Houston Forensic Science Center).

HFSC manages controlled substances, crime scene evidence, digital and multi-media evidence, firearms, forensic biology and DNA, latent prints, toxicology and trace (arson-based evidence). "We don't store evidence, so this is always shifting as we process evidence and return the evidence, after testing has been completed, to the law-enforcement agencies," says Peter Stout, HFSC's CEO. "At any point in time, we have several thousand items in process in the laboratory."

Approximately two years ago, Stout says, HFSC first began looking into an RFID-based solution. The group decided to start with general lab supplies since they are less critical than the evidence that the tools and supplies are used to process. HFSC did not maintain an inventory of these supplies; they were simply ordered when needed by multiple personnel. Therefore, supplies often arrived at the lab in multiple quantities and variations—in some cases, more than were actually needed. In addition, the supplies were stored in a variety of places with little accountability.

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