Kissimmee Florida Police Department was implementing a new state-of-the-art RFID evidence tracking system when COVID hit. How do you keep such a project going from long distance, while keeping your on-site officers safe? Jennifer Helms, Forensic Lab Supervisor, joined the Kissimmee Police Department in December of 2018. With 180 officers, 5 evidence vaults, and over 75,000 pieces of evidence, one of her first orders of business was to make sure her evidence rooms passed an annual audit. “I had taken over responsibility for every unit. We did a 100% inventory of every piece of evidence. It was very time consuming- it took 8 months with an all-hands-on-deck effort.” Even so, they found lots of discrepancies in documentation, chain of custody details, and misplaced items. It was not only time-consuming, but stressful. Helms needed to make some changes. While attending a training event in Osceola County, Ms. Helms saw a vendor presentation for an RFID-based evidence tracking system called PADtrax. “Our old RMS system used bar codes to label and track evidence items, and it was inconsistent in the way it tracked them. But all of our officers knew how to input the descriptions, create the item number, tag and submit the item. We didn’t want to disrupt that process and teach them all a new system,” she explained. Enter the RFID vendor, C&A Associates with the PADtrax product. “C&A software experts made the old RMS system ‘talk to’ the PADtrax RFID system, so the officers could continue to log new items. Then the PADtrax system takes over. The ability to locate a misplaced item is absolutely critical; this is what I like about Padtrax,” explains Helms. Converting to the new system required tagging all of the existing evidence items with the new RFID tags so that they are easily found and identified. Ms. Helms’ team initially tagged as much as they could before COVID forced new socially distanced working conditions and remote working. “Working now from home, the new PADtrax system allowed me to monitor the evidence rooms from afar,” says Helms. She received alerts when unscheduled evidence ‘moves’ occurred. She also had access to important chain of custody documentation, signatures, and attachments. Five evidence vaults/locations were in play, in addition, an outside location for bikes and other articles were being tracked. The City and Department as a whole had many others working from home. In order to minimize the number of staff that had to occupy the same room with one another while working with evidence, they staggered staff hours for minimal overlap. Helms describes her efforts: “I would remotely log in to see how we were doing and watched the total numbers of new evidence items collected. But I also needed to see how many old items were tagged for the conversion. I could pull the items and reports right from my laptop at home.”
The annual inventory audit is now coming up for the high-volume vault. In the past, this audit has taken 4 days with 4 people. Now, with PADtrax, Helms foresees it taking less time. “And a lot less stress,” she hopes. (PADtrax is a patented product of C&A Associates, Inc. For more information, visit: caassociates.comllaw-enforcementl or call 800-679-7764).