Skip to main content

Evidence tracking with radio frequency identification devices (RFID)

Barcoding helps with the inventory/warehouse duties of forensic agencies. However, barcoding has limitations that reduce its effectiveness: Barcode readers can only read barcodes within line of sight, which makes physical inventory of warehouses difficult. Every package in a warehouse must be touched, in essence, in order to count it. Each external package has its own barcode but to find out the contents, you have to open each box. Barcoding only identifies the package as coded and the information is static, that is, it cannot be updated once the barcode is printed. If a barcode label rips, becomes soiled or falls off, it may no longer be legible. 

Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems consist of a tag, a reader, and a software system. The most commonly encountered RFID system is that used for automatic toll payment on highways or toll roads. A tag affixed to the car windshield is read by a device on the toll booth (the reader). Software identifies the tag’s owner and bills the appropriate account for the toll. 

WVU is researching the use of RFID tags to inventory and track forensic evidence, allowing laboratories to have real-time knowledge of cases, evidence loads, backlogs, and items. In collaboration with 3M, this project explores the utility of this technology in helping forensic laboratories keep pace with their casework demands.