Case Study: How the FBI Uses Our Labels

Mitochondrial DNA. Blood-spatter evidence. Luminol testing for presence of blood. OK—so that’s what the popular television shows serve up for forensic fare. It’s exciting and intriguing stuff.

All excitement aside, however, there are very practical concerns for real-life forensic work. There must be a clear and unassailable chain of evidence and that is precisely where barcode labeling excels.

DNA Evidence

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is a long-standing customer. They routinely order CryoLabel® rolls by the thousands for the FBI Laboratory. [If we told you what these labels were used for, then we would have to eliminate you.] We can say that our CryoLabel® would be highly useful for long-term storage of biological material—such as epithelial tissue swabbed from a perp’s mouth, saliva traces found on a perp’s discarded soda can or semen left on a victim’s clothing. Samples of all these substances carrying the DNA genetic message can be barcoded and then cryogenically frozen (to avoid degradation) as the investigation stretches over months or even years.

Speaking of DNA, we always thought it was interesting that a perpetrator’s own DNA—the nucleic acid that consists of two long chains of nucleotides twisted together into a double helix—often comprises the “chains” that twist together to “hang” the guilty person. Preserving the DNA is so important that a tamper-proof system of tagging the stuff is of vital importance to major-case squads. Crime scene investigators and forensic crime laboratory technicians are thus obliged to engage in a time-consuming process of collecting, tracking and inventorying crime scene evidence. Inaccuracies and human errors are rife.

Integrity, protection against contamination and evidence stability are the chief objectives. Barcode labeling provides a secure chain-of-custody tracking—from the time of initial evidence collection, through various forensic analytical processes to final disposition in a case file archive or long-term repository. A barcoding system can also reduce the time police officers and investigators spend logging and inventorying evidence by as much as 50 percent.

Here’s how it works. The entire process starts with evidence collection at the scene of the crime. Investigators must scoop up evidence for tagging and bagging. Electronic Imaging Materials, Inc. offers tamper-evident labels for tagging samples bags. The adhesive closure prevents the sample from being tampered with between collection at the scene and accessioning or processing. The pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) offers other advantages over—let’s say—envelopes, by preventing the investigator from having to moisten an envelope flap. A PSA label eliminates the risk of contamination from saliva altogether.

While we’re on the topic, saliva is not the only form of DNA found in the mouth. Buccal swabs are cotton-tipped applicators that are used to collect cheek cells from inside a suspect’s mouth. EIM can easily engineer unique pre-coded barcode sets to reduce labeling time and ensure that the buccal swabs collected and the protective swab containers always match. These barcode sets can include matching labels for all sorts of documentation—including logbooks, paperwork and file folders.

Barcoded evidence is then submitted to the forensics crime laboratory. When the lab scans the barcode label, extensive case and chain-of-custody data is quickly and securely transferred directly to the lab’s information database. A new barcode label is then printed for the lab’s evidence pouch. A submission receipt barcode can be printed to confirm transfer to the lab and to preserve chain-of-custody integrity. Since the barcoding system is completely integrated through Open DataBase Connectivity or ODBC (more on that in an upcoming issue), the lab technicians do not need to keystroke case data or case numbers. This eliminates human error and saves on productivity. To keep the bosses happy and keep the trial lawyers confident, barcoding can help supply data for management reporting, analytical reports, audit logging and security control.

The evidence is put through various forensic processes, which might include slide examination under a microscope. We offer chemical-resistant labels that withstand the nasty solvents that are found in a crime lab. Our workhorse XyResist® Labels are ideal for use in a forensic laboratory. Between steps or when the forensic work is done, evidence can be identified with our CryoLabel® and then stored at cryogenic temperatures for optimal evidence stability.

Non-DNA Evidence

In addition to labels suitable for laboratory information management, we have labels for property room evidence management. The property room at the station contains bins, shelves and lockers—all of which must be properly barcode labeled. This represents an enormous challenge for police officers and law enforcement officials. A barcoding system provides a level of accuracy that is invaluable for cataloging and tracking evidence as it moves through the criminal justice system. A barcode can include a wealth of information for each custody transaction—including date, time, officer, badge number, locker/bin, chain-of-custody status and miscellaneous comments.

The Erie County Central Police Services in New York contacted EIM for barcode label suggestions. The labels needed to be tear-proof. They needed to adhere well to both brown bags and plastic bags. Furthermore, the labels would be exposed both to freezing (but not cryogenic) and room temperatures. After studying the specifications, EIM suggested a nifty solution: the Freez-R-Mark™ Label. This plastic label is engineered an aggressive “freezer” adhesive that features excellent intial tack and ultimate bond to flexible packaging and varnished corrugated—even when applied at freezer temperatures. It even adheres to many surfaces that have certain amounts of frost or moisture build-up. Solution provided. Problem solved.

If the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York State Division of criminal Justice Services, the Erie County Central Police Services, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Denver Police Department, the Maryland Department of State Police and the United States Department of Justice all turn to Electronic Imaging Materials, Inc. for label solutions, you can be sure we have a forensic solution for you, too.

Electronic Imaging Materials