County police using microchips, barcodes to track seized evidence -- Gazette.Net


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The Prince George’s County Police Department is in line to become one of the first law enforcement agency in the nation to place GPS tracking devices onto every confiscated item stored within the department’s property and records division — a new practice that aims to streamline the process of transporting, holding and purging collected evidence.

A $500,000 federal stimulus package grant made the new process possible and officers assigned to the division are now tagging newly acquired items with barcodes and microchips known as radio-frequency identification tags.

Under the Smart Tracking of Evidence and Property program, which the division created using software and equipment from a Gaithersburg-based information and space management company, every item recovered from a crime — whether a handgun or laundry detergent — will immediately receive a barcode and microchip that tracks its whereabouts. Once the property is collected and tagged, it is taken to a district station and the property and records division can easily see what items are at each station and when they need to be transported to the division’s property warehouse in Lanham.

Under the former system, officers have had to manually enter item information into computer files, which does not automatically notify them when a station’s property inventory is full or when an item can be purged, said Capt. John Hipps, the assistant commander for the department’s property and records division.

“This is like going from the concrete wheel to the Cadillac when it comes to systems,” he said. “By the end of the year, we should have it fully operational where we should be able to have everything the day forward be under the new system.”

Capt. Steve Yuen, a county police spokesman, said every item has a retention period and must be held by county police until a case is closed and evidence is no longer needed. While recovered bicycles have a 90-day retention time before officers can donate them, evidence from homicide cases must stay with the department for 75 years before being either destroyed, auctioned or allocated to a department division.

“Everything has a retention period,” he said. “This new bar coding system is going to speed up a lot of things.”

Hipps said the new system will notify the department when an item’s retention time has expired, which helps keep the property warehouse from holding on to more items than there is room in the 800,000 square foot warehouse.

“With the old system, we’ve had to continually go to a station and check the purge log. This new system will automatically notify us,” Hipps said. “This will allow us greater ease of purging some of the property that we have.”

The fortified warehouse houses roughly one million pieces of confiscated evidence, Hipps said. He said of the about 5,000 items recovered each month, about 1,000 are purged. The eight-officer staffing used to handle property goes to each station about once-a-week to collect each inventory and bring it back to the warehouse. Sgt. Brian Lott, a property curator for the division, said every week is different in terms of what is collected from stations, noting that depending on police seizures there could be an influx of televisions or copper piping.

Outside of finding items that can be purged, the department gets rid of unclaimed items by auctions and donations, while allocating items like computer monitors or floor jacks to various stations depending upon the need.

Lott said last year the department partnered with a Florida-based nonprofit that refurbishes cell phones and sends them to homeless and battered women shelters.

“They make it functional so that battered individuals can call police and have an emergency phone,” he said.

Lott said auctions are also held for evidence that is deemed functional and valuable such as televisions or vehicle equipment. Hipps said between $20,000 and $30,000 are received from auctions annually, which is then given to the county department’s Crime Solvers program, which offers monetary rewards for anonymous tips that lead to arrests.

Hipps said the new barcode system is similar to what’s done in retail department stores to prevent theft and check inventory.

“We’re taking that application and putting it into a recover property police-type facility,” he said. “It was done for the innovation and the practicalities of it.”

djgross@gazette.net