The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is preparing to modernize how forensic evidence is processed.
NCIS told DefenseScoop that it plans to implement a new Evidence Management Portal (EMP) in the first quarter of 2024. The tracking technology is already used by both the Army Criminal Investigation Division and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. The Army is credited for developing the system and currently serves as the program manager.
The tech will be used to track evidence and enhance evidence processing for forensic kits that collect information after a crime, like sexual assault. For active-duty service members, these collection tools are called Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) kits.
The Department of Defense received nearly 9,000 reports of sexual assault in fiscal 2022, according to the Pentagon.
The new capability that NCIS plans to use next year is a web-based inventory management system that allows the evidence custodian — someone who oversees the proper evidence management — to catalog evidence, track and report inventory, and maintain the chains of custody for evidence through its collection cycle until final disposition. A victim can request access to it through a special agent, according to a statement shared by the United States Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USACIL).
In a statement to DefenseScoop, a Navy spokesperson said: “NCIS expects that the new (EMP) … will lead to improved SAFE kit tracking, improved inventory controls and more efficient processing of evidence by the Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, all of which will lead to more timely and accurate updates to victims of sexual assault.”
Currently, NCIS uses a local evidence management system and submits the kit to USACIL for laboratory analysis. Once the lab has finished the analysis, the kit is returned to a local NCIS office where it is kept in an evidence storage facility.
On some occasions, however, civilian authorities will handle the evidence kits for military victims because military victims will go to a non-military medical facility and use one of its evidence kits. Sometimes NCIS will pick up these kits and put them through the military system. Other times, the kits will go through a state process and only interact with the military system after testing has been completed, according to a Navy spokesperson.
“Accordingly, the Navy cannot necessarily control the SAFE kits used by all reporting military victims,” the spokesperson told DefenseScoop.
The upcoming change will “allow NCIS to track the shipment of SAFE kits to the (USACIL), receipt of the kits at the USACIL and return the evidence to NCIS, all of which will lead to more timely and accurate updates to victims of sexual assault,” the spokesperson said.
USACIL told DefenseScoop that other technologies involved with the kits include DNA analysis and trace evidence testing.
“Scientific technology is constantly evolving,” the lab said in a statement. “All the examiners at USACIL are aware of emerging trends within their specific disciplines and each of the scientific branches at USACIL have the capabilities of validating new instrumentation and procedures as they become readily available.”