The 6 to 18 month backlog to process digital evidence at almost every state crime lab and RCFL is forcing law enforcement agencies to consider alternatives, especially for high-profile and time-sensitive cases. Private labs and digital forensics services are available to help, but law enforcement needs to be aware of the differences in working with a public lab and a private lab or expert. Here are the three most important questions to ask a private digital forensics lab or service before you hire them:
1) What accreditation does your lab maintain?
The same third-party organizations that offer accreditation to state and federal crime labs are also available to private labs. This isn’t a question you ever have to ask a state lab, but it’s a “must” before working with any private lab. Maintaining accreditation through a third party organization, such as ASCLD/LAB-International, ensures that the lab follows specified policies and procedures, validates tools, and keeps its team trained and competent within their field of expertise. Is it possible to get a great forensic analysis from a lab that isn’t accredited? Of course it is, but an accreditation makes the evidence much more bullet proof in court.
2) Can I review a sample, redacted findings report?
This is another question you would rarely ask a state lab. They typically have such a high volume of cases that their reports are standardized and can be somewhat limited. With a more manageable case load, private labs are able to conduct more in-depth investigations and provide more detailed explanations of their findings within a report. Always ask for a redacted lab report to review in order to get a sense of the quality of reporting. Of course, quality does not just mean more detail. The report should be clear, concise and easy for a case agent and district attorney to understand. Forensic examiners at private labs frequently testify in court, so it’s also important to ask for the CV of the examiner who will work on your evidence.
3) How much will it cost?
OK, you probably won’t forget to ask this one, but it’s the biggest difficulty of dealing with a private lab. While public labs aren’t free, their cost has already been included in your department’s budget, regardless of how long their backlog is. You’re going to have to fight for some budget authority, even if the payoff is easy to justify with something like reduced surveillance overtime. You should ask the private lab if they have options that can be structured like a budget line item. Many labs have “case work packages” where you pay a fixed amount for a budget year that can be applied to specific cases as needed. The flexibility and fast turnaround times available with private digital forensics labs like Flashback Data offer huge benefits to law enforcement agencies. It’s important to know how and when to engage a private lab in a way that will get your case completed quickly and ensure that any evidence can stand up in court.
If you’re interested in getting the help of a private digital crime lab for better, faster forensic investigation contact Flashback Data.