Forensic Science Communications - April 2004
April 2004 - Volume 6 - Number 2
Research and Technology
Forensic Information Management System
The Forensic Information Management System was developed for the West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory in Charleston, West Virginia. It is currently being implemented in the Laboratory’s Biochemistry Unit. The software streamlines laboratory information gathering using state-of-the-art technology and integrates external and internal data collection processes. The advantages of the software are the ability to integrate information on different platforms, share information between agencies, track the status of cases, and upload data directly into a database. It is available on desktop computers, the Internet, and handheld personal digital assistants.
West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory
The West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory is an American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board-accredited laboratory. It is a full-service laboratory providing evidence examinations for all law enforcement agencies in West Virginia. The goal of the Laboratory is to generate accurate, impartial, and timely scientific examinations and opinions for the criminal justice system. The Laboratory is organized into the following seven units:
- Biochemistry Unit
- Drug Testing Unit
- Firearms and Toolmarks Unit
- Latent Prints Unit
- Questioned Documents Unit
- Toxicology Unit
- Trace Evidence Unit
More than 1,000 West Virginia law enforcement agencies submit evidence item(s) for examination to the Laboratory. Some of these items become evidence at a trial.
The Laboratory was using a manual system of entering examination results into a laboratory information management system, and phases of the examination process could create a large amount of handwritten paperwork. In some cases, case files exceeded 250 pages. The Laboratory needed a way to streamline examination processes, automate operations, integrate internal and external data collection, provide online status tracking by requesting agencies and prosecutors’ offices, and upload information to the laboratory information management system.
The West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory’s Biochemistry Unit examines biological evidence and performs PCR-based DNA analysis on submitted evidence. The Unit manages the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) for the state and enters convicted offenders’ DNA profiles into the National DNA Index System of CODIS to check against unsolved crimes.
The process of examining the evidence in the Biochemistry Unit is described in Figure 1. The process involves a series of applications designed to retrieve the maximum possible information from evidence collected during a crime scene investigation. From storing evidence to retrieving processed sample data, the primary focus is to ensure the preservation and reliability of evidence records.
The Forensic Information Management System implementation is described in the following processes of the Biochemistry Unit.
Case reporting is recording crime information from an officer’s viewpoint. Each phase of the case reporting, except evidence storage, has one or more documents associated with it. The investigating officer fills out a case report form that contains the following:
- Reporter information
- Investigation information
- Victim information
- Suspect information
- Crime and/or drug description
- Item information
- Acceptance information
The Forensic Information Management System screens associated with case reporting are shown in Figures 2-8.
When the case report form is complete, the investigating officer submits the form and the evidence to evidence receiving. The Forensic Information Management System checks whether the evidence is related to a new or to an existing case. The System assigns a unique 20-digit number to each case according to the organization shown in Table 1.
|ff||Number of Item(s)||01|
Evidence is anything that might be useful in discovering information about a crime. West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory’s storage facilities can accommodate evidence ranging from a human hair to an automobile.
Laboratory evidence storage procedures ensure that evidence is preserved in the same state in which it was recovered at the crime scene and that it is not contaminated. The evidence inventory form is processed to maintain the evidence inventory.
Evidence processing includes preparing evidence for examination by decoding, separating critical points and areas, taking photographs, and creating a file. This file is retained in a bar-coded envelope that is stored in a freezer in the Biochemistry Unit. The bar code references the evidence to the laboratory case number. The personnel processing the evidence complete the evidence processing form and maintain all records in a paper file that is entered into a computer.
The Forensic Information Management System screens associated with evidence processing are shown in Figures 9-12.
Evidence Extraction and Amplification
After the evidence is resized and reshaped to a condensed, workable form, it is sent to evidence extraction and amplification. Technicians record the examination information on the evidence extraction and amplification form and manually enter the information into a computer.
Evidence amplification receives extracted evidence and records whether or not amplification was needed. The comments involving amplification tests as well as the type of machine used in the application comprise the text portion of the amplification processing form.
After testing the evidence, the evidence extraction and amplification form is completed. When the evidence extraction and amplification has been verified, a draft report is produced. The draft report is then sent to the evidence technician. After review, the report and the evidence are sent to the requesting agency.
The Forensic Information Management System screens associated with evidence extraction and amplification are shown in Figures 13-15.
Forensic Information Management System
West Virginia Laboratory personnel, law enforcement agency personnel, and prosecutors can share information in the Forensic Information Management System. Each type of user has different data-access privileges. The law enforcement agency sending evidence to the Laboratory can complete the case report form, track the status of the case, and review the final report online. Prosecutors can also to track the status of agency-submitted cases and review the final report online.
The Forensic Information Management System design for the Biochemistry Unit is shown in Figure 16.
The overall Forensic Information Management System architecture is shown in Figure 17.
Case reporting is shown in Figure 19.
A case submission screen from a personal digital assistant is shown in Figure 20.
The Forensic Information Management System database was installed in Microsoft SQL Server. Currently, the database supports the Biochemistry Unit using Microsoft Windows, the Internet, and personal digital assistants environments. The Windows and the personal digital assistant software were implemented in VB.NET, and the Internet software was implemented in ASP.NET. The Forensic Information Management System software can be accessed via the Internet. The database has 13 major tables. Figure 18 shows the organization of the database.
The Forensic Information Management System is a software system developed to automate operations in the West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory. It supports Microsoft Windows, the Internet, and the personal digital assistant platforms. The system was first installed in the Biochemistry Unit. Work is underway to expand its use to the other Laboratory units. When fully developed, the system will enable the following:
- Sharing information with state and federal agencies
- Uploading local crime data to national databases
- Enabling law enforcement agents to access crime information on handheld devices