Tim McIntyre has lost count of the number times news stories with the term, “missing evidence” have crossed his desk.
It happens all the time, says McIntyre, and all across the country: crime scene evidence is lost, misplaced, destroyed, or otherwise compromised because most police departments rely on a longstanding method of collecting evidence – gathering it by hand at the scene of the crime, then transporting it back to the station for cataloging. It’s a system that’s almost begging for trouble, says McIntyre, who notes this system of “double processing” is time consuming, expensive, and most importantly, increases the risk of errors and the potential for evidence tampering.
McIntyre’s company, Primary Marking Systems, has patented a better way for police departments to handle evidence, called eTWIST (for Evidence Tracking With Information Systems Technology). The concept behind the technology is simple: police responding to a crime scene are equipped with mobile handheld devices, PDA’s if you will, that allow them to record and enter evidence data information at the crime scene. The officer simply logs on using a secure code and PIN number to start the evidence collection process. Officers take pictures of evidence, suspects, witnesses, victims and more, and the photos they take are automatically branded with a geo-stamp, providing proof of the evidence location. As those pictures are compiled, eTWIST builds the crime scene, mapping out the location of each item via satellite technology. The latitude, longitude and altitude are locked in as well. Date, time, barometric pressure, temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud cover and all other related data is stamped in as well. The evidence is barcoded, then packaged for transportation to the police station.
Once there, detectives simply store the material into the department’s evidence room for security.
eTWIST documents every transaction, every move of the evidence, whether at the crime scene or back at the station, ultimately blocking any opportunity for tampering. When defense attorneys or others request evidence, it’s scanned in and out and is again time and date stamped, even assigned a specific space in the room for storage, features that greatly reduce the opportunity for evidence tampering or misplacement. By using the departments email system, alerts are set, employing time and date sensitivity, to indicate when and by whom a specific evidence-related task should occur, including any task requiring supervisory approval, creating an electronic set of checks and balances. At the end of a trial, evidence can be assigned a disposal date with electronic notes provided to all respective parties in a timely fashion.
McIntyre calls it “cradle to grave handling of evidence that no other technology provides.”
The eTWIST system costs about $20,000 for a police department that employs a handful of officers who work staggered shifts. It’s a cost that includes training for police personnel, and McIntyre says, a cost which can be covered by federal grant money. Police departments in Maplewood, Creve Coeur and Frontenac are using the system right now.
The price is well worth it, says McIntyre, citing a recent Texas Office of Court Administration study that reveals simply prosecuting a capital crime can cost an average of $200,000 to $300,000.
In California’s infamous Scott Peterson murder trial, there were 184 witnesses called to take the stand. The trial ended up costing the taxpayers of Stanislaus County $4.13 million dollars. With that type of money at play, says McIntyre, ironclad evidence such as audio, video, photographs, notes and statements that are electronically date stamped, time recorded and available on a system to be shared with anyone having need to know, is invaluable, especially in an era of reduced budgets. Further adding to the cost advantages of eTWIST, McIntyre says the system can save investigators up to 50 “man-hours” each week.
“Ultimately,” says McIntyre, “the cost of investigating and prosecuting a case is paid for by us, the taxpayers. It’s your money and my money. Let’s create a system that spends that money most wisely.”