Making a Case for Better Scene Management

What the Hanover County Sheriff's Office learned from the D.C. sniper investigation


     The sheriff's office houses the EvidenceOnQ system on a laptop computer, which can be used at any designated command post, whether it is mobile or not. In the event of a major emergency management situation, the database is used from the command post, regardless of how far away it is from the actual scene, to manage the people and equipment at the incident scene.

Managing the scene

     The system has allowed the sheriff's office to outline critical incident scene procedures. Upon arrival at the command post, for example, an individual presents his or her credentials, ID or badge to check in. The information is entered into EvidenceOnQ, along with a listing or description of that person's specific duties at the scene. A barcode label is generated and attached to the individual's existing ID or badge.

     Thanks to automated innovations such as this, gone one are the days of the officer stationed at the entrance of a scene, frantically scribbling on a yellow legal pad, trying to record all personnel entering and exiting a scene. Instead, individuals entering the scene can present their barcode to the perimeter security officer and the officer simply uses a portable barcode scanner to scan the ID badge. When a person is finished at the scene, the security officer scans a barcode titled "clear scene." The person then reports back to the command post to turn in his or her barcode. Equipment and supplies at major scenes can be documented in the same fashion.

     The data stored in the portable barcode scanner can be downloaded into the database at any time. Hanover County's automated crime and emergency scene management reduces chaos and disorganization at the scene and making information on the scene or attending personnel easier to retrieve. Because every field is searchable, there are few limits to the data that can be retrieved for on-site review or post-incident analysis.

Just what the Forum ordered

     The EvidenceOnQ system meets the goal criteria for a critical incident management system that were addressed in the PERF report about the D.C. Sniper Investigation. The report cited the following issues that a critical incident management system would need to address:

  1. planning and preparation
  2. defining roles and responsibilities
  3. managing information efficiently
  4. maintaining effective communications

     In addition, the PERF report specified that personnel would need to be comfortable with and well-versed in how to use the critical incident management system. "It is unrealistic to expect personnel to learn a new system in the middle of the crisis," the report said. "Individuals must be familiar with the systems they will use during the investigation, and ideally should employ the same system as they use every day."

     Because EvidenceOnQ is used on a daily basis by Hanover patrol, investigations, crime scene, evidence and administration personnel, they will not have to learn a new system in the midst of a crisis.

     Ultimately, the PERF called for a reform in emergency and crisis management so that law enforcement agencies would be prepared for the future.

     "It's not a question of if there will be another multi-agency investigation," Det. James Trainum of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department wrote. "It's a question of when and where."

     The Hanover County Sheriff's Office utilized the lessons they learned from their involvement with the D.C. Sniper Investigation to prepare for the future. The EvidenceOnQ system provided the agency with the tools necessary for future emergency management situations.

     Shannon Turner is a FileOnQ evidence specialist. She worked for 23 years in the State of Washington's criminal justice system, the last 10 as a police evidence technician and crime scene investigator.

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