Managing Digital Evidence

Feb. 20, 2024
Erick Ceresato, Product Group Director for Genetec, talks about what law enforcement agencies need to consider when it comes to digital evidence.

As technology continues to advance at a rapid rate, law enforcement agencies are faced with a growing amount of digital evidence and the challenge of storing and managing all of it. Erick Ceresato, Product Group Director for Genetec, recently answered some questions from OFFICER Magazine about the company’s Clearance digital evidence management system and what agencies need to consider when it comes to digital evidence.

This article appeared in the January/February issue of OFFICER Magazine. Click Here to subscribe to OFFICER Magazine.

What are some of the challenges law enforcement agencies face when it comes to managing digital evidence?

Agencies can face a number of challenges managing digital evidence. These will differ based on the size of the agency, responsibilities that they carry, and the dynamics of the communities that they protect. A common issue prevalent in many agencies stems from the lack of officers and time to respond to events in their municipalities. Many look to leverage technology to adapt to this reality and help make officers more efficient in their tasks. For example, a digital evidence management system (DEMS) will allow officers to electronically transfer digital evidence from investigative leads, rather than commit officer time to collect it on site.

As the number of digital data sources increases, it’s equally important to maintain a single repository where agencies can centralize the evidence they collect. Whether working with forensic evidence from laptops/ cellphones, footage from security cameras or in-car systems, or crime scene photos, a DEMS will allow law enforcement organizations to secure all files in the same application. A significant advantage is that all evidence can then be managed through the same security and retention policies and can be accessed through a single web portal.

How have the storage constraints of digital evidence evolved over the years?

Agencies have traditionally relied on local storage systems to manage their digital evidence. However, the growing volume and size of digital evidence that’s produced has made this effort significantly more complex and time-consuming for IT teams to manage. Whereas data could previously be housed on a few servers, the amount of NAS (Network-attached storage) dedicated to evidence storage has ballooned at many agencies. Inherently, this means more servers to patch, update, and maintain, in addition to the other activities the IT team is responsible for. Beyond maintenance activities, using a dedicated application to manage access and permissions ensures a must easier adherence to security policies that agencies must enforce for criminal justice information.

With all these aspects to consider, the majority of agencies now mandate the specification of a cloud-based DEMS when searching for a solution to manage their digital evidence.

What sources are law enforcement agencies using to collect digital evidence?

The number of sources is increasingly diverse, meaning more attention is spent on format compatibility and support that is offered by DEMS applications. For example, Genetec Clearance recently provided integration with transit on-board video systems. This not only provides playback of the bus/train video recordings but also offers vehicle sensor information during playback, in order to review GPS coordinates, speed information, and other telematics.

Common sources can include security camera recordings from city systems, as well as recordings from residential and commercial properties, body camera and in-car recordings from officers, forensic data from cellphones and laptops, and crime scene photos. There is a wide variety, and the use will depend on the units within agencies that are using the DEMS.

How does Genetec Clearance help bring all of this evidence together?

Genetec Clearance has been developed to allow police officers and detectives to gather digital evidence from a variety of sources (such as video management systems, body-worn devices, in-car systems and cell phone footage from bystanders and witnesses), and easily store, manage, review and share it from within a single application.

Designed as an open platform, Genetec Clearance offers the ability to integrate to a variety of sensors and applications through its open APIs, allowing customers to import and synchronize data from their video surveillance system, body worn cameras, in-car systems, computer aided dispatch (CAD), record management (RMS) and other systems. The application looks to resolve issues related to the accessibility of evidence by authorized stakeholders by centralizing files from disparate sources and managing access, permissions, retention, and security policies from a single application.

Genetec Clearance is designed using the “API First” development principle and provides documented and publicly available REST APIs that can be used to integrate with other law enforcement systems. Agencies can develop their own integrations to automatically push and centralize data within the same application.

What benefits are law enforcement agencies seeing from Genetec Clearance?

Law enforcement agencies have used Clearance for a number of purposes, which largely depend on how the application can complement their overall digital strategy. From example:

  • Clearance is used by many real-time crime centers to quickly export and share footage from city cameras to officers and command staff to support investigations.
  • Integration with body worn cameras and in-car video systems allows agencies to securely store, review, and distribute recordings from these devices
  • Agencies and municipalities can launch camera registry programs in their communities, which allow investigators to electronically contact and request information related to incidents from neighboring business owners and residents to help solve crimes
  • Detectives can quickly request digital evidence from witnesses through their phone or from online portals to collect investigative leads that originate across a variety of sources
  • Officers can request video recordings from city cameras through the Clearance portal, allowing them to quickly receive evidence and ensure the required protocols are followed before releasing the video
  • Clearance can integrate with CAD and RMS systems to allow agencies to leverage data from their existing systems and avoid duplication and manual entry
  • Detectives, records, and FOIA teams can use the application to redact restricted video and/or audio from records before sharing it with the public
  • Agencies can quickly share their cases with attorneys, while including all digital evidence related to the investigation within the same package. This can include cellphone logs, reports, videos, radio recordings, and more. All files are encrypted, and the chain of custody is preserved for all interactions with them in the application

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