When it comes to movement of physical evidence, it is absolutely essential to maintain the integrity of the evidence and to comply with legal chain-of-custody requirements. As with equipment, an accurate inventory is the key and you will undoubtedly have one for your day-to-day activities already. One Northeast crime lab used its inventory list to “check-in” items to a truck that was then locked up and treated as a sealed container. At the destination, the same list was used to unload the truck and “check-in” its contents to the new evidence vault.
Some evidence requires special treatment. For example, bodily fluids and other items may require refrigeration. Hazardous items like explosives may require special handling and packing. The packing and loading of all evidence must be overseen by the manager of the evidence room who can make decisions about any special requirements.
Security for physical evidence is a must, and a minimum requirement would consist of a police escort of the sealed truck. The scheduling and routing of the truck should generally be restricted to a limited “need-to-know” list of people. Scheduling should take into account availability of the destination loading dock at the time of delivery to avoid unnecessary idle time and exposure. Basic security measures may need to be tightened if particularly valuable goods, such as cash, jewelry, or drugs are being transported.
While it is desirable to minimize as much as possible any downtime associated with a forensics lab move, there are certain critical operations that must not be down at all. Examples include fire debris testing related to suspected arsons, drug testing, toxicology work, and initial DNA screening. Prior to moving your lab, it is important to identify all critical services and have contingency plans for dealing with requests for those services.
One option exists where a lab has multiple instances of the same forensic capabilities (say, DNA Analyzers). In such cases, consider moving one machine, then another, so that both are not down at the same time. When in-house redundancy is not available, most critical operations can be provided by another facility. Independent labs or other public forensic labs may be available to provide back-up capabilities for cases that must be handled quickly, for example, drug and alcohol toxicology testing or ballistics testing.
The key is to be aware, ahead of time, of those operations that must be backed up, and what contingency resources are reasonably available. Plan to call alternate suppliers and find out if they can supply your needs and meet your standards for quality and timing.
The Importance of Planning
As with most things, the best way to avoid problems associated with movinga crime lab is to PLAN. And the best way to plan is to ensure PARTICIPATION.