Summary of Implementation – Laboratory Information Management System
The Pennsylvania State Police Computer Crime Unit, a component of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, operates in multiple offices across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies operating throughout the Commonwealth submit thousands of digital evidence items to the Computer Crime Unit for forensic analysis related to crimes ranging from theft, sexual assaults and narcotics to death investigations.
A regional approach is required for the unit to operate effectively as the highly trained personnel required to conduct digital forensic analyses are geographically distributed across the state. Positioning staff regionally also eliminates the need for investigators to travel long distances to submit digital evidence to the unit. While a regional approach is necessary, it also creates specific organizational challenges.
The Pennsylvania State Police wished to standardize evidence management and laboratory reporting across the unit while also raising the bar on quality control. Traditional thick-client based Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) were evaluated and ultimately proved not cost-effective for several key reasons.
First, licensing was a challenge since the workstations in use by the examiners cannot easily be shared, particularly across different physical offices. The examiners work at specialized digital forensics workstations and compile their analytical results at those workstations. Hunting for an available workstation equipped with a LIMS license to complete the laboratory report was deemed undesirable, while purchasing a license for each examiner’s workstation was cost prohibitive.
Second, a centrally available server would be required with a secure infrastructure to connect their multiple work locations. Creating and managing such a secure infrastructure would add administrative overhead to the unit’s continually growing caseload. The server itself would need to be purchased initially, then replaced on a standard life schedule.
Third, storage needs are a moving target and difficult to predict within the timeline required to procure sever upgrades within the state budget system. Several years ago smartphones with 8 or 16 GB of storage space were typical whereas now 64 and 128 GB devices are commonly submitted.
The PDEVIDENCE Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) was ultimately adopted by the Pennsylvania State Police to meet the needs of the Computer Crime Unit. PDEVIDENCE is an Amazon Web Services partner and leverages AWS to meet the needs of its law enforcement customers. PDEVIDENCE offers a cloud-based LIMS and Evidence Management System (EMS). The cloud-based LIMS allows unit members from any office to securely login and manage their cases without regard to their geographic location – even if they happen to be on-scene at a search warrant. Peer review and final approval of laboratory reports can now be conducted by supervisory members located within a different office. The challenges previously imposed by location are no longer relevant.
AWS technologies, including EC2 Virtual Servers, SES E-Mail Services, and S3 Storage, among others, provide a scalable, automated, and efficient solution that addresses all of the challenges, both initially and subsequently, identified by the unit. Specifically, software licensing is no longer a concern because the LIMS operates entirely from a web browser. Second, secure and scalable virtualized servers on AWS GovCloud create the infrastructure. Finally, digital storage on S3 eliminates the need to project hard drive requirements in advance of a budget cycle.
Law enforcement agencies utilizing the services of the Computer Crime Unit can now securely connect to the unit’s pre-logging web site and enter all case and item submission details. Upon the investigator’s arrival at a regional office, the Computer Crime Unit can scan a barcode and receive the case into LIMS without additional data entry.
Results from the analysis are recorded directly within LIMS in real-time, taking the place of legacy forms and handwritten notes. Reporting is standardized across all regional offices using automatic report creation templates and the review and approval process is integrated within LIMS.
Using the PDEVIDENCE LIMS on AWS, the Computer Crime Unit for the first time is automatically generating invoices for their examinations which are forwarded to the court and included in a criminal defendant’s fines and costs. Ultimately, at the conclusion of an examination, the investigator receives an e-mail notification from the LIMS that their lab work is complete with links to download the laboratory report and invoice.
PDEVIDENCE improves the efficiency, integrity and organization of crime lab management.
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