One would not be incorrect in saying the evidence handling capabilities in the criminal justice system (CJS) of South Africa are non-optimal. From the collection and categorisation of evidence, through to the organisation and collation for prosecution, there are many points of vulnerability where mistakes or criminal acts can lead to cases being thrown out of court due to lack of evidence, evidence tampering or even the lack of proper handling of evidence. Of course, there are many cases where the evidence handling is so poor that cases never get to court.
While this state of affairs is wonderful for criminals, it is terrible for the victims of crime and all the players in the CJS. The problem lies in the manual processes used to collect evidence, which sees different pieces of evidence stored in different formats and places, making it harder to view and manage everything safely, legally and effectively.
Nice may have a solution for this, a Digital Investigation & Evidence Management (DIEM) system designed to make the collection and management of evidence faster, more secure and easily accessible. Long-term readers of Hi-Tech Security Solutions will remember Nice was involved in the security management field for many years before its physical security division was sold and now operates as Qognify.
Secure evidence management
Nice’s DIEM is a cloud-based application that can be rolled out to any location quickly. It allows for the collection of evidence in digital format, all captured and linked to a case number. This will allow investigators to examine all the evidence related to a case from a central point and do the necessary preparations and send it all to the prosecuting authority for further action.
As a digital storage system, any evidence can be captured and saved, whether it comes from a phone’s camera or digitised documents from medical labs, etc. And everything is available at the click of a mouse.
In the age of COVID-19, where handling physical evidence may not be everyone’s ideal job, the authorised digital evidence can be shared freely, with the system ensuring only authorised people can access it, while also recording what they have done. The digital evidence will also include recordings of phone calls to the emergency services or even radio calls and the associated body-worn camera video. This can be automatically allocated to a case along with any further evidence or testimony. The idea is to automate as much as possible to streamline investigations through a complete, reliable chain of custody.
The system has been introduced in the UK where, at the time of writing, 13 out of the 43 English and Welsh police forces are using the system. One precinct noted that the system saves about '20 officers’ time' and allows police officers to do more valuable work than shuffling papers and moving evidence about.
Easier intelligence gathering
Because evidence is not scattered across silos, the system can also be used to extract intelligence and solve unrelated crimes. An example, again from the UK, involves a kidnapping where the only evidence was a white van. Searching across cases in the area, the system happened to have a nuisance report about a white van. Following up, the police were able to correlate the evidence, track the van and recover the victim.
Nice is making the DIEM available in different versions, including a free Investigate Xpress version that authorities can use to discover the capabilities of the system, albeit with some limited functionality. It uses the Azure cloud, which is available in South Africa, and the system is fully browser-based so it can be up and running in a 48 hours. Nice also provides training to ensure officers are able to make use of the system effectively.
Socially distant evidence handling
According to Nice, here’s how a digital evidence management system helps in the age of COVID-19:
1. Removing the ‘physical touch’ from digital evidence by eliminating the need to copy evidence onto CDs and USB drives.
2. Enables employees to work remotely and securely to support social distancing: investigators, analysts, CCTV specialists and their managers to all work effectively from home.
3. Reduces face-to-face contact during evidence collection by helping investigators reduce their travel and public contact. CCTV video evidence and other evidence can be secured remotely.
4. Reduces potential virus spread among different units by enabling employees to quickly and efficiently share information digitally.
5. Minimises repeat in-person contact with victims and witnesses by recording phone, video and Skype interviews from home and linking these recordings electronically to cases.
6. Enables secure, electronic sharing of case evidence with the CPS thereby minimising face-to-face contact and handling of physical media.
More information can be found at https://www.nice.com/protecting/public-safety/nice-investigate/, or use the short URL http://www.securitysa.com/*nice1.
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