Ever have this problem? Your department buys a bunch of gear for community use: radar guns, riot helmets, raid jackets, cameras, whatever. Say there are a dozen in the inventory. Six months or a year after the purchase, you go to the supply room and there are maybe two or three left, with no indication of where the rest went. There’s a sign-out sheet on a clipboard, but with far fewer entries than there are pieces of equipment.
Sign-out sheets just don’t cut it. People find all sorts of reasons to make a piece of gear “theirs,” from “those other guys won’t take care of it” and under whose care “it will get broken” to “I want to make sure I have this when I need it” to “I can get $50 for this on eBay.” Whatever the mechanism, you need an effective inventory control system.
A company called Dynamic Systems offers a barcode-based tracking system called Checkmate that is both low-cost and easy to administer. You print the barcodes yourself (or order pre-printed labels from the manufacturer), apply them to your gear, and register each in the software. Each user also has a barcode, preferably printed on their ID card. When someone checks out an equipment item, the custodian scans the barcode on the ID card, then the one on the gear. When it comes back in, the process is reversed. At any moment in time, you know where your equipment is (or should be), and how long it’s been there.
There are additional features for creating “kits” of equipment, so items that are often checked out together are grouped, simplifying and speeding up the process. If a class of equipment needs periodic maintenance, the software will alert the user when that interval is coming up. This is valuable for ensuring replacement of radio batteries before they exceed their service life, calibrating portable breath testers to meet state crime lab specs, and cleaning and doing other preventative maintenance on shotguns and TASERs.
Each individual whose ID card/barcode is enrolled in the system is allowed to check out any item, or only items authorized to them. For instance, a radar gun could be available only to officers with current radar certifications. Users can also be limited to a specific number of items checked out at one time. If an officer had checked out a radio, he would not be able to check out another one until the first was checked back in. Equipment is loaned or sent out for repair or maintenance by creating another barcode for the borrower or repair shop.
One of the many screens displaying status information shows how many of each group of items should be in the equipment room. If the physical count doesn’t match the report, the custodian can start looking for the missing item right away. Each item screen includes a space for a photo, should there be some doubt as to the appearance of the unit. There is also a provision to attach manuals or any other document to an item, so that manuals or calibration certificates are easy to locate. Most of the screens are customizable. Users aren’t limited to the information screens included with the software.
The barcode material comes in several flavors to be adaptable for any item. Dynamic Systems first designed the software for industrial tool rooms, where equipment is subjected to harsh conditions while in use. Sticky-tape labels come off too easily. For this kind of application, Dynamic Systems has a 2-D “dot” barcode laminated with polyester and backed with an “aggressive adhesive.” Some of these will survive being dunked in chemical baths, so they should endure most patrol environments.
When items are stored outside the equipment room, the custodian can use a portable barcode scanner to perform inventory. This is useful when a set of equipment is stored in and associated with a specific patrol car, for example. The scanned data is downloaded to the Checkmate software when the portable scanner is docked with the host computer.
Accurate equipment inventories are dependent on good security provisions, including limited and supervised access to the storage locations. Once that is in place, the person responsible for maintaining the inventory will find their job much easier with this tracking software.