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Ali Baba’s cave and the police evidence conundrum

‎07-09-2014 01:12 PM - edited ‎09-30-2015 07:05 AM

By:  Mario Devargas, Solution Executive, Hewlett Packard Company


store room - compressed.jpgAs I slowly walked through the early morning mist across the sands of destiny, I reach a fantastic oasis; Ali Baba’s cave perhaps – riches beyond belief – coins, bank notes, bottles filled with different coloured elixirs, mink coats, guns, rifles, Armani suits, televisions, digital radios, tables, chairs, beds ….. wait, what’s that smell – something mouldy, dry-rot/damp on the walls, rotten meat, a dead body decomposing slowly in the heat,… what do I see?.... bags – big, small, medium plastic bags with something in it… O dear the closer I get to them the stronger pungent corrupt smell it is…. It’s rotting cannabis! Mountains of it….   


< Wake up, Mario . . . Mario, MARIO – WAKE UP! > 


I wake up from my dream and find myself not in Ali Baba’s cave, but in a typical evidence store where police officers deposit the day’s takings from the urban streets as crimes are committed, lost items, etc.  This evidence store contains everything you can imagine – from forged bank notes, to fake t-shirts, counterfeit bottles of whiskies, televisions, hundreds of bicycles, even a toilet basin with seat included, and of course big bags of cannabis from farms raided the night before.  This was one of the walk-abouts I did while I was at a major UK Metropolitan Police Force where I visited a number of property/transit stores.


On average, hundreds of thousands of items are seized and stored every year by an average UK police force.  The power to seize virtually anything (PACE 1984) in the course of an investigation is so wide that many police officers simply seize as much as they can and handle the outcome.  Consequently, police forces have a fundamental responsibility in the correct handing of evidential property - this is vital to the efficiency of crime/case management and ultimately for progression through the criminal justice process.


Most forces in the UK provide a legacy evidential property management process that tries to ensure all evidential property is secured appropriately, correctly identified and all movements are tracked.  The process was designed to safeguard the integrity of evidence to support the prevention and detection of crime, whilst also assisting in victim care and public confidence and satisfaction by enabling lost/stolen property to be returned to its rightful owners as quickly as possible.


 How Information Technology can help

No IT system can solve every cultural or management problem associated with the administration and management of evidential property.  However, police forces need to address their antiquated, uneconomical, even Victorian Era style internal processes for handling evidential property.  They should be using all the 21st century tools available.  In order to address this opportunity, let’s understand the basic business problem described above and what outcomes we want to achieve.


Effectively and securely seize evidential property:

1.  Police Officer takes charge of an item, bags and labels it.

  • (TechHelp) Does the item need to seized or simply photographed and sent electronically to base via a smart phone?
  • (TechHelp) If seized, use electronic tags (bar-coding, RFID, intelligent tags) to tag the item and track the asset.

2,  Once in storage, the item needs safe handling and administration.

  • (TechHelp) Use RFID to track the movement/logistic of the item;
  • (TechHelp) Use electronic tagging a part of an “inventory control” link to a case;
  • (TechHelp) Link items to the case via the central POLE (Person, Object, Location and Event) environment, thereby ensuring that any officer has access to all the information pertaining to a case;
  • (TechHelp) Streamline the storage of evidential property via an electronic Hub & Spoke and transit management system to geographically store items based on the requirements of the case.
  • (TechHelp) Link electronically to the “transit/logistic” system intelligently package evidence in vans;
  • (TechHelp) Electronically transfer the images, tags, POLE etc. to the judiciary environment.


3.  Ensure all necessary policing activities are performed effectively – from the neighbourhood officers, through to the inspectors, commanders, liaison officers, legal counsels, judges, etc.

  • (TechHelp) Ensure that an integrated end-to-end core data repository is created where evidential property is fully integrated within the POLE environment. This will prevent duplicate entry of evidence and/or their derivatives, streamline the service request process between Evidential Property, Detection/Investigation and ultimately Justice;
  • (TechHelp) Ensure the POLE is fully integrated within an agile Case & Custody environment. This will improve “access” to information both in-office and remotely in a consistent manner.


Take responsibility for “lost and found” items.  There needs to be a debate as to why police forces store “lost” property in the same manner and location as their evidential property items.  This historical perspective is unsustainable due to the high cost of administration and management. The extent of a police force’s responsibility in this area is arguable; there are some items that can be classed as reasonable (e.g. passports) that police forces should handle – but normally this should be a community-based service.

  1. (BusinessHelp) Public services have a mandate to collaborate across the differing sectors (hence why doesn’t the local police force join up with their local council to jointly deliver a “loss & found warehouse” partnership?).  This could be run as a profit-making venture similar to train stations – where if items are not collected by their owners within a certain time, they pay a fee to reclaim it.
  2. (TechHelp)The use of agile/collaborative technology (like federated Mobile MS Lync and SharePoint) can interface police requirements with the public requirements, thereby ensuring that evidential assets are handled by the police and loss & found assets are handled by the local council.


The current situation is having an increasingly adverse effect on both estate management and revenue expenditure, as well as providing adequate security for police evidence. It is essential that police forces address the increasing demands of evidential material in terms of space, bureaucracy and costs both culturally and procedurally.  These areas must first and foremost be for the storage of “evidential property” which is only material to an investigation.  The responsibility to gather, preserve and present evidence to a court remains of uppermost importance.  Good, easy end-to-end technology that assists police officers in this endeavour is paramount.


Previous blogs by Mario Devargas:

Related links: 

About the Author


Mario Devargas.jpgMario Devargas, Solution Executive, Hewlett Packard Company

Mario is fifty+ year-old Spaniard with English undertones – living in Preston, North West England.  He has worked in the Information Technology field for over 30 years, most recently in the Public Sector as IT Director for a Northern UK Metropolitan Council and as CIO for the second largest Police Force in the UK.  As a Senior Executive he majors on advising organisations on Corporate IS Strategy, Collaborative Shared IS services and building and leading high-performing IS teams.

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