RIM Brain: Law & Order: SVU

In a criminal justice system, records and information are necessary to support operations and functions. In a television show like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, our old friend RIM-Brain often pops in to say, “Hey, that’s not proper records and information management (RIM).” These are their stories. DUN-DUN.

As always, spoilers ahead!

“Game” (Season 6, Episode 14)

A woman is killed after a car runs up on the sidewalk and, save for a cryptic phone message, there are few clues and seemingly no motive. When Detective Elliot Stabler’s son notes the similarities between the incident and a video game where players commit crimes to score points, the investigation leads to a teenage couple so obsessed with said game they cannot differentiate between reality and fantasy. As the crime scene investigators confiscate computer equipment from the bedroom of one of the suspects, an officer yells “Stop!” as the CPU is carried out the door—there’s a degausser loop by the threshold. With dismay, Stabler vocalizes what the rest of the team just realized: “We just wiped his hard drive.”

Indeed, exposing magnetic media to a degausser will essentially destroy the data. Find out more about degaussers and electronic records destruction.

“Institutional Fail” (Season 17, Episode 4)

In this episode, a child in foster care is tragically neglected and perishes after falling through the cracks of an overburdened system. When the SVU team investigates, they find a pattern of reports documenting a rosier picture than what the reality is. Oh, but those pesky metadata and audit trails show that the reports were created days after the death of the child and backdated to appear as if each visit had been completed as scheduled. Data about the data: it will tell on you every time, it seems.

Detectives Benson and Carisi let a perp know that metadata tells the whole story.

Learn more about metadata and electronic records here.

“Behave” (Season 12, Episode 3)

In this episode, Detective Olivia Benson races against time as she gathers evidence to put a serial offender away for his violent crimes before the statute of limitations clock runs out. The investigation shows that the perpetrator has been active in a number of US cities, but at each location, fate seems to be cruelly mocking Benson as she encounters evidence corrupted by inhospitable environments: moisture and mold. (Okay, we’re cheating a little with this one because biological materials aren’t included in the definition of a record, but such is how the RIM-Brain works.) Humidity ruins everything.

Detectives Benson and Stabler look on with shock and horror at the presence of mold.

Learn more about the storage of paper records with this webinar.

“Zebras” (Season 10, Episode 22)

While investigating a murder in Central Park, Benson and Stabler are assisted by Crime Scene Unit technician Dale Stuckey. In his eagerness to help solve the case, Stuckey assigns the same docket number to multiple pieces of evidence, essentially voiding chain of custody procedures and rendering the evidence inadmissible in court. We all know how important it is for records to be available, transparent, and accurate; a clerical error like this could result in serious consequences.

Learn more about common principles and best practices for RIM through ARMA International’s Principles and TSLAC’s administrative rules—Electronic Records Standards and Procedures for local governments (13 TAC §7.71-7.78) and state agencies (13 TAC §6.91-6.98), where many of the principles, such as accountability, transparency, and integrity, are explored.

“Intersecting Lives” (Season 17, Episode 22)

A prison corrections officer is accused of assaulting women in and out of prison. His wife insists that there is no way he would have had time to commit the atrocities; after all, he was home twenty minutes after leaving the prison each Sunday, when the alleged crimes occurred. But Assistant District Attorney Rafael Barba is able to provide irrefutable evidence in the form of records: testimony from a co-conspirator about falsified timecards and surveillance video showing that the corrections officer was leaving hours earlier than he told his wife he was, giving him ample time to carry out his crimes.

Looking for the retention periods for timecards and surveillance videos? Check out Local Schedule GR for local governments and the Texas State Records Retention Schedule for state agencies.

Detective Fin Tutuola schools a person on Transitory information in meme form: "GR1000-50. Classified as a record but destroyed immediately. Didn't even make it to the disposition log."

“The Long Arm of the Witness” (Season 22, Episode 6)

In this episode, a powerful judge seemingly inexplicably dismisses a routine case. When the SVU team starts pulling at threads, they learn the judge has his own checkered past. However, the allegations are decades old, as are witness’ memories. As Benson and ADA Sonny Carisi hustle to find evidence that documented something about the case, they encounter a former campus policeman who held onto his incident records from the era in question, showing outcry from a victim. Were those reports past retention? Probably. Did they deliver satisfying, Dick Wolf-esque justice? You bet.

Any other episodes of this series trigger RIM-Brain for you? Let us know in the comments below!

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