Is it a coincidence that the revelations of evidence loss have hit the headlines as we approach the deadline of the Home Office mandate for digital evidence compliance, which comes to effect at the end of April 2016?
Given that since the mandate was announced there has been very little publicity surrounding the ‘stick’ approach to driving forces to implement digital evidence management strategies, I suspect that it is indeed a coincidence. The BBC has revealed the findings of a joint HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary report which says that there was a "widespread issue" involving the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) "misplacing discs containing sensitive evidence and information."
For members of the public reading such an article it is sure to shock, but for those working in Forces right across England and Wales it may not be such a huge surprise. Discs are essentially physical pieces of evidence that need to be need to be manually logged, booked in, stored, retrieved etc. And with so many discs in circulation and physical storage space being limited, it is perhaps not unexpected that on occasion they can be misplaced.
In 2014, the then Policing minister, Damien Green, announced that by the end of April 2016 all forces in England and Wales must be capable of sharing evidence digitally with the CPS and the courts. One of the anticipated outcomes that this initiative would lead to was a significant drop in the use of discs, as forces move towards lower cost, more secure and faster digital methods of capturing, securely storing and sharing evidence - recordings from command and control, body worn camera feeds, videos, photos, etc.
What I have seen in the past 12 months from forces I have visited, or spoken with, has been hugely positive. There is undoubtedly a concerted effort being made by senior officers to push the digital evidence agenda forward. They are being driven, not just by a mandated obligation (if indeed this remains the case?), but by a recognition of the operational rewards of digital evidence management. At the end of the day, having more efficient and effective ways to capture, analyze and share digital evidence can help police forces close more cases faster, make better use of scant resources, and allow officers to do what they are trained to do, instead of spending time creating, curating and couriering discs.