Royal Canadian Mounted Police Streamline Lab System Using Bar Code Printing, Scanning

Posted January 21, 2010

The world may know the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), or Mounties, by their traditional crimson uniforms, but the RCMP is responsible for much more than maintaining its legendary image. A world-class police force, the RCMP is unique; providing law enforcement services to federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government. In the aftermath of 9/11, the RCMP decided to expedite the modernization of the information system infrastructure for its forensic laboratories, and Zebra thermal printers were an integral part of the solution.

The RCMP operates a Forensic Laboratory Service with six forensic sites across Canada, which used a homegrown case tracking system supported by Microsoft Foxpro databases. At that time, the laboratories operated somewhat independently and access to important case files was limited by location. The processing of crime scene evidence was sometimes slowed if the evidence reports and the experts who needed to review them were separated by geography. The system worked, but the RCMP wanted greater efficiency.

The RCMP sought a Zebra Technologies partner, to provide a complete laboratory information management system (LIMS). They offered LIMS-plus, an off-the-shelf software application that mirrors best practices from forensic labs across North America. The RCMP wished to improve productivity, internal and external communications, reduce costs, leverage scientific talent across the country, enhance security, and introduce consistent scientific methodologies.

Joseph Buckle, Assistant Commissioner of the RCMP’s Forensic Laboratory Services, said there were two important considerations in selecting LIMS-plus. “The first was functionality. Could the system immediately provide us with the technical solutions we were looking for, and were they specific to forensic science work?”

“The second consideration was track record. I had to be certain that other forensic facilities in North America were using the system for interoperability purposes, and that the supplier had a good track record and reputation. ” said Mr. Buckle.

LIMS-plus uses bar code labels, scanners and desktop thermal printers from Zebra Technologies to create a flexible system that gives a clear view of an overall case. The solution integrates evidence tracking, analytical results and lab management information from various departments of the RCMP Forensic Laboratory Services: toxicology, evidence recovery unit/biology (DNA), firearms (includes tool mark identification), trace evidence/arson/explosives, counterfeits and documents examinations, QA/QC and the case reception unit.

The process begins when a sealed container of crime scene evidence is delivered to one of the laboratory sites. Exhibit Custodians (ECs) inventory the evidence by entering information on the contents into a LIMS connected desktop computer. The ECs then use a Zebra desktop thermal-transfer printer to generate a Code 39 bar code label that will uniquely identify the evidence. The label is affixed to the evidence and the evidence is placed in storage. Another bar code label, also produced by the Zebra printer, can be used to group evidence together to facilitate transfer from one location or person to another.

When the analytical work is ready to begin, supervisors assign the work and the evidence is retrieved and directed to the designated person. Each time the material is moved or a procedure is completed, the activity is recorded using a desktop-tethered scanner from Symbol Technologies that reads the employee’s bar-coded ID badge and the evidence or container label. Each of the 300 casework support employees has an equivalent of a PIN number as a second identity confirmation, and they’re able to key in a procedure ID for the work they complete. If pieces of evidence are allocated to different investigations or locations, the case file itself is given a bar code to facilitate cross-referencing.

The RCMP purchased the system in December 2001 and went fully live approximately one year later. They have since continued to enhance the system, creating many interfaces to accommodate the labs’ very advanced DNA processing procedures. There are approximately 378 LIMS workstations and 54 Zebra printers in use at the RCMP Forensic Laboratory Service sites throughout Canada.

The Forensic Laboratory Services now has a streamlined, easily accessible system that allows each of its six sites to collaborate as a single unit. Management can review target information from all cases at once, which helps them allocate resources more efficiently.

Mr. Buckle said that since LIMS-plus was installed, organizational flexibility has improved substantially.

“This system supports Forensic Laboratory Services ability to function as a single laboratory with several service delivery sites” said Mr. Buckle. “Our six service delivery sites operate and interact in next to real-time mode.” When it comes to documenting and moving evidence, Zebra plays an integral role.

The compact Zebra printer fits easily in crowded work spaces and produces long-lasting, high-quality labels. It offers plenty of memory to store label formats for fast printing, supports multiple linear and two-dimensional bar code formats and prints labels up to 4.09 inches (104 mm) wide. “Zebra printers are part and parcel of our success,” said Key.

Filed under: Case Studies