A scrap of cloth, a bit of wood, an empty bottle, a loaded gun. They're the bits and pieces of evidence from which police investigators construct a case. This evidence needs to be kept safe, categorized and accessible. In Santa Clara, California, the Santa Clara Police Department meets this challenge through a unique evidence-tracking system that marries database and wireless technology.

FileMaker Pro database software is used throughout the Santa Clara Police Department for a wide range of record-keeping purposes. However, it's the evidence-tracking system that puts the department on the cutting edge of finding new ways take advantage of an installed database and the benefits of wireless, handheld computing.

The system is built around a palm-type device manufactured by Symbol Technologies which interfaces with the department's FileMaker Pro servers by means of a 2.4 GHz radio link. Equipped with this easy-to-use handheld unit, the department's property clerk is able to enter complete documentation for every item of evidence as it comes in ­ entering the necessary details into a master database and then printing out a bar-code label that is attached to the evidence container.

Once this label is in place, a quick scan of the code instantly brings up the relevant record ­ specifying what the item is, what case it belongs to, where it was collected and by whom. The scan also generates a complete history of how the item has been handled since it was brought in. Every scan is automatically logged, ensuring that this history remains up to date and that the evidence can be tracked should it be called into question at any time.

The system enables the department to track information better and use it more efficiently. The system also allows authorized personnel to access the information they need right from their desktops. By doing so, dispositions of property are updated directly by the investigator. This has assisted us in determining what evidence is current and what can be discarded.

Simplicity melded with sophistication is a hallmark of this system, and much of that is attributable to the database deployed. It's very simple to build databases in FileMaker Pro, and it produces a very professional-looking result. The Web features enable you to create easy-to-use Web-accessible databases.

The wireless technology has proved itself to be reliable and efficient. We are so confident in its abilities that we have deployed this concept in the field with our police officers. We have equipped officers with the same Symbol device and have created an intranet between the officer's computer in the patrol vehicle and the handheld device. A traffic collision report program, developed in FileMaker Pro, is operating in the vehicle. With FileMaker Pro acting as the Web server, the officer uses standard HTML Web pages over the 2.4 GHz intranet connection to collect driver and injured-persons information on the handheld device. With the addition of a magnetic-strip card reader, the driver's information is entered with just the swipe of the driver's license.

The officers using this device have found that it speeds the collection of data and frees their hands for other uses. After collecting the data and aiding the parties involved, they return to their patrol vehicle. There is no need for synchronizing the device and converting files. All the data collected is already in the traffic collision program, and the officer continues to complete the report.

FileMaker Pro used in conjunction with a handheld device means that we don't have to worry about the device itself becoming obsolete. If we had spent a lot of money developing for a particular device and then turned around to find that device had been discontinued, we'd be stuck. With FileMaker Pro, as long as there's a handheld unit that can access the Web, our FileMaker system will work.

The Police Evidence Tracking System uses FileMaker Pro, Symbol Technologies handheld device, and a 2.4 GHz radio link. Symbol Technologies palm device interfaces with the department's FileMaker Pro servers by means of a 2.4 GHz radio link. Equipped with this handheld unit, the department's property clerk enters complete documentation for every item of evidence as it comes in.

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