CD or DVD Digital Storage
The records, logs, and evidence for each investigation must be keyed and correlated to one another in a master organizational system. A lot of the evidence gathered during the course of the investigation is digital — audio, video, and photography. In most organizations, as soon as a new case opens, the case manager assigns it a case number and sets up a file folder for it. The individual investigators on a case can handle their stored digital media in one of several ways:
They remove the digital media cards and slip them into small baggies with the case number and their names, then hand them over to the team leader. The team leader submits them for evidence review.
Investigators take the storage medium out at home and upload it to their computer, where they label it by case number and make a copy of the files for the evidence review process.
Investigators review the files individually and hand over copies of any files that appear to contain unexplained activity.
Investigators still use regular film cameras, but the photos are usually scanned into a computer database for easy file storage, enhancement, and transfer. Physical photos and negatives can be labeled and stored in binders for easy access in the office.
Choosing a Method
There are pros and cons to each approach. Media storage can be lost or misplaced, and it isn't cheap to replace. It does, however, allow the team leader to keep control of the data. Team members may feel more comfortable with this option if the media cards belong to the group and they are not expected to turn over their own property.
How important is it to back up files?
It is vital. After the subfolders and files are created, they should be immediately backed up to CD, DVD, an external hard drive, or an online file storage service. CDs and DVDs can be stored with the rest of the case's hard files. Make two copies just to be safe.
In the second approach, the individual investigators are responsible for making sure the evidence eventually reaches the group. If they are not well-trained and conscientious investigators, evidence can be accidentally damaged or destroyed.
The third approach, in which the individual investigators decide which files to hand over, has the least merit but can be quite a time-saver for the evidence reviewers, removing hours of tedium from their job. The best candidates for this approach are investigators with years of working experience. This approach works best when the team has completed many investigations together and implicitly trusts each member's judgment.
Organization of Files and Folders
Scanned photos taken with regular film cameras can be more easily stored and shared with other investigators when they are converted to digital files.
Photo copyright Melissa Martin Ellis, 2007.
Whatever approach is used for preserving and reviewing the digital files, the group should agree upon and follow a clear procedure. The files should be uploaded and put in a folder on the computer that is named according to case number. For example, the first investigation of 2009 could be named 09-001-Ellis. The first two digits are the year and the middle three denote the case number. The client's name finishes up the case number.
Subfolders should have the case number and the type of files to be found within them, such as 09-001-Ellis-Audio, 09-001-Ellis-Photos, 09-001-Ellis-Video. If more than one investigator did audio or EVP work, it may be necessary to create a subfolder within the audio subfolder with the case number, the subfolder name, and the name of the investigator, such as 09-001-Ellis-Audio-Melissa.
Keeping files this organized is easy once everyone understands the system. The case manager may have to go in and sort things out occasionally, but everyone should attempt consistency in naming and record-keeping.