Evidence Management Community of Practice Newsletter


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Vol 1, Issue 7

In This Issue:

Ask the Steering Committee: Property and Evidence Tracking



The Evidence Management Steering Committee (EMSC) receives many different types of evidence tracking questions. Some questions are about general evidence tracking processes (e.g., tracking for all impounded items), while others focus on the tracking processes for specific evidence types (e.g., sexual assault kits). The EMSC recognizes that property and evidence tracking is an ongoing challenge for most organizations. This newsletter discusses general considerations for tracking evidence from collection to disposition.



Agencies handling property or evidence should have a comprehensive tracking system to establish and maintain the collected items’ chain of custody and integrity. Tracking typically involves many different people, places, and events, and depending on the item and collector, may include:

  • Collection, packaging, and initial documentation.
  • Temporary storage.
  • Transfer and accessioning into a property or evidence room.
  • Transfer to and receipt from a forensic laboratory.
  • Short-term storage.
  • Long-term storage.
  • Transfer to court.
  • Final disposition.

Proper evidence management and tracking practices will ensure that the integrity of physical evidence is maintained from the crime scene to the court room.   



The most significant challenges with effectively tracking property and evidence involve the sheer number of items, the various organizations and people who handle the evidence, and the number of transfer events. The inability to properly account for items, document their location, and transfer them appropriately can jeopardize the chain of custody and potentially have a negative impact on the outcomes of a case.

Historically, agencies used paper systems (e.g., handwriting labels, completing paper forms, maintaining logbooks) to track evidence. Some agencies have implemented hybrid systems involving paper and computer-based tools, such as spreadsheets. However, paper and hybrid methods can be labor-intensive and prone to human error and omissions. With these systems, the lack of aggregated information in a single location (e.g., database) creates tracking, reporting, and productivity challenges. Over time, handwritten information can fade, making it unreadable. Functionally, electronic spreadsheet applications must be continually backed up and made accessible to appropriate persons while also allowing access tracking and editing.

Due to the challenges of paper and hybrid evidence tracking systems, some organizations have shifted to software programs specifically designed to streamline and enhance the tracking and inventory process. However, software tracking solutions also have inherent barriers and implementation challenges. Examples include the initial cost and labor required to support information technology procurement, operation, and maintenance. Jurisdictions can also encounter functionality challenges, both within the agency and across internal tracking platforms used by different agencies (e.g., forensic laboratory). 

The Solution

The Solution

Evidence tracking is a critical component of an agency’s evidence management process. Whether paper-based, electronic, or software-based, the tracking solution must efficiently and effectively track all movement and transfer events for each item. The following represent examples of overarching factors to consider when developing or strengthening evidence tracking within an organization and across jurisdictions.

Agency Coordination

Ideally, all the entities involved - from collection to disposition - should collaborate on the evidence tracking solution which should integrate with their existing evidence management processes. However, members of the EMSC understand there can be a great divide between the ideal and the real. One step towards narrowing this divide is to have cooperation and communication across agencies within a given jurisdiction. Members of the EMSC agree that coordination is most successful when all agency management levels are involved and are provided the opportunity to directly contribute by communicating organizational requirements, limitations (including budgets), and goals.

Process and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Specific policies and procedures for proper evidence handling, tracking, and storage should be developed and readily accessible to staff who handle physical evidence. The contents of policies and procedures may vary across different agencies based on their interaction and role with evidence items (e.g., healthcare organization, law enforcement agency, forensic laboratory). For example, when an agency collects, holds, and transfers evidence to another agency, the following are expected to be addressed in the agency’s documented processes:

  • Identifying who is involved with collecting the item.
  • Expectations for appropriate packaging, labeling, and sealing the evidence.
  • Determination of unique identifiers for each item of evidence.
  • Temporary and short-term storage (e.g., physical location, environmental considerations, security).
  • Identification of who transfers the item and who receives the item (person and agency).
  • Date and time of transfer.
  • Maintaining the tracking record and what information is included in the record.
  • Security, access, and audit controls.

Training and Oversight

Training and oversight on policies and procedures is an important part of the process, that at times, is not specifically addressed. Individuals who handle evidence should receive appropriate training regarding their agency’s policies and procedures. Training and oversight considerations should include:

  • Comprehensive onboarding training including case examples and hands-on demonstrations.
  • Clearly outlined performance and management expectations.
  • Required training for all staff before handling any property or evidence, remedial training based on identified performance indicators, and required training when processes or procedures are updated.
  • Documentation providing specifics regarding initial onboarding training; remediation training when required; updated process and procedure training; and proficiency training.

Using an Electronic Tracking System

Organizations using paper-based or hybrid solutions may consider implementing an electronic tracking software system. Advantages of electronic evidence tracking systems include reducing redundancy and errors, supporting reporting and auditing requirements, improving inventory accuracy and reporting metrics, and a more efficient way to identify an item’s location and final disposition. Considerations for the acquisition, implementation, and maintenance of an electronic system include:

  • Budget.
  • IT infrastructure.
  • Customizability.
  • Growth and scalability.
  • Barcodes and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags.
  • Intra- and inter-agency requirements.
  • Transition plan.
  • User training and system support.
Best Practices

Best Practices

The following sources provide guidance on a wide range of evidence tracking topics:

Landscape Study of Software-Based Evidence Management Systems for Law Enforcement

This document, which contains contributions from EMSC members, identifies software-based evidence management system benefits, limitations, and adoption considerations.

RFID Technology in Forensic Evidence Management: An Assessment of Barriers, Benefits, and Costs

This document summarizes an RFID study and includes recommendations to law enforcement agencies responsible for managing and tracking forensic evidence.

Landscape Study of Laboratory Information Systems for Forensic Crime Laboratories

While written for forensic laboratories, this August 2020 National Institute of Justice publication details factors for any entity considering automated evidence tracking systems.

Disadvantages of RFID: Most Are Easy to Overcome

This website provides easy-to-follow information regarding RFID disadvantages and links to related sites for more detailed information.

 Evidence Handling, Processing, and Tracking

This presentation was given during a meeting of the National Commission on Forensic Science in April of 2015. It was used to assist in discussing possible recommendations to address evidence tracking challenges nationwide. It explains the number of entities that may interface with evidence throughout its life cycle and outlines what is critical to maintaining and documenting the chain of custody.


Was this useful?

Please feel free to provide feedback on this article and any additional questions you have regarding property & evidence tracking. If you have ideas on future articles or would like EMSC to provide more information on a specific topic,

please email us at: AskEMSC@nist.gov.

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References and Additional Education Links

References and Additional Education Links

  1. Evidence Management Tracking: RFID vs. Bar Code Technology. Retrieved from: https://trackerproducts.com/evidence-management-tracking-rfid-vs-bar-code-technology/
  2. RFID Evidence Management. Retrieved from: https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/RFID-Evidence-Mgmt-TN_0913-508.pdf
  1. The Des Moines PD Virtual Evidence Room Tour. Retrieved from: https://trackerproducts.com/the-des-moines-pd-virtual-evidence-room-tour/
  1. Adopting the Evidence Auto Disposition Mind-set. Retrieved from: https://trackerproducts.com/adopting-the-evidence-auto-disposition-mind-set/
  1. Evidence Handling, Processing and Tracking, National Commission on Forensic Science – Evidence Retention and Preservation, April 30, 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.justice.gov/archives/ncfs/page/file/451306/download
  2. Evidence Management Institute (EMI) Homepage. Retrieved from: https://evidencemanagement.com/
  1. Evidence Management Institute (EMI) Standards and Best Practices. Retrieved from: https://evidencemanagement.com/resources/emi-standards-and-best-practices/
  2. Evidence Technology Magazine, RFID for Evidence Tracking and Accountability. Retrieved from: http://www.evidencemagazine.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1801&Itemid=49
  3. Not Barcodes or RFID, but Both. Retrieved from: https://www.barcodesinc.com/news/not-barcodes-or-rfid-but-both/
  1. The History of the Bar Code. Retrieved from: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/history-bar-code-180956704/
  1. Information and Knowledge Management Using GNOWSYS. Retrieved from: full-paper-final.dvi (gnowledge.org)
  1. Landscape Study of Laboratory Information Systems for Forensic Crime Laboratories, National Institute of Justice, August 2020. Retrieved from: https://forensiccoe.org/private/5f454c3549928
  1. Disadvantages of RFID: Most Are Easy to Overcome, Wireless Technology Advisor. Retrieved from: https://www.wireless-technology-advisor.com/disadvantages-of-rfid.html
  2. Example of a department's CALEA Property and Evidence Unit Standards in PowerDMS. Retrieved from: https://www.powerdms.com/public/bellpd/documents/33743
  1. Law Enforcement Evidence & Property Management Guide, California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), September 2013. Retrieved from: https://www.crime-scene-investigator.net/PDF/CAprop-evid_management.pdf
  1. Ohio Property Room and Evidence Room, Best Practices Manual 2018. Retrieved from: http://home.iape.org/resourcesPages/IAPE_Downloads/Property_Manuals/2018evidenceroommanual%20FINAL.pdf
  2. The City of Denton Internal Audit Report Audit of the Police Property Room, June 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.cityofdenton.com/CoD/media/City-of-Denton/Government/Internal%20Audit/G-16-Police-Property-Room-Audit-Final-(4-3-19).pdf

Events & Training

Due to COVID-19, the dates of in-person training sessions are changing daily. For the most up-to-date list of trainings please refer to the organization's websites.

Evidence Management for Law Enforcement

Evidence Management for Law Enforcement offers classes designed to provide training, resources, and tools for property and evidence personnel ranging from basic evidence management, evidence room audits, and property and evidence room organization.  

The most up-to-date list of upcoming property and evidence trainings can be found here. 

International Association for Property & Evidence (IAPE) Training

This is a two-day, in-person training that focuses on evidence and property room management best practices. 

The most up-to-date list of upcoming property and evidence trainings can be found here.

Unable to travel? IAPE offers two convenient online training options. Choose between a full, two-day course or individual classes.

Click here to learn more about IAPE's online courses. 

Public Agency Training Council (PATC) - Managing the Property and Evidence Room 

This is a two-day training that provides participants with the techniques and responsibilities involved in the function of a property room.   

The most up-to-date list of upcoming property and evidence trainings can be found here. 

Note: The NIJ, NIST, and EMSC do not sponsor or endorse the training content for any events provided in this list. The events and training sessions provided are for informational purposes only.

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