Could anyone who served in the police force 10 years ago have imagined a time when digital evidence would be overwhelming? Probably not, but this is the situation many forces find themselves in today.
In November, it was widely reported that Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) had suggested some forces in England and Wales are at risk of being ‘overwhelmed’ by the volume of digital evidence being collected. Perhaps unsurprisingly, stories in the national media focused on the negatives. The Guardian reported: “Police failings are subjecting crime victims to ‘unacceptable delays’ of up to eight months to secure the crucial digital evidence needed to prosecute a wave of modern-day offenders.”
While all this is true, I prefer to focus on the positives.
We live and work in a ‘sharing economy’ where people are eager to post information and share information with the police, information that can be vital to solving crimes. True, there has never been a greater abundance of evidence, for example, videos and photos taken by witnesses on their smartphones, posts on social media, CCTV video, body-worn video, and so on. And this has the potential to overwhelm police forces – but only if they let it. The choice is simple: police forces can continue to rely on current manual methods, or they can look for better ways to collate, analyze and share growing volumes of digital evidence.
Think about the time consumed today in the collation, analyzing and sharing of evidence. It is a hugely time intensive process, that can result in slow investigative response times. This was one of the big issues raised by HMIC, pointing to the impact delays can have on achieving successful outcomes.
The main problem for most forces is embracing the sheer volume of information, and separating the wheat from the chaff (an old adage to describe a modern problem). You may say “Easier said than done!” but the reality is that as fast as digital technologies are creating new forms of evidence, so too are new solutions being developed and deployed to manage them.
For example, think of the time and resource savings that could be achieved by knowing which Local Authority or Private (shop owned) CCTV cameras might be pertinent to your investigation (without having to go to the scene of a crime), then being able to electronically request that video and having it ‘delivered’ right to your investigator’s desktop.
Now imagine that the video could automatically be converted to a playable format. In addition to eliminating the need to send ‘police couriers’ to locate and secure video tapes, this would also eliminate time previously wasted on tracking down the necessary codecs to play the video back. No more moving boxes of tapes (that could be potentially damaged or lost) around the office. And that’s just the CCTV video. Imagine the possibilities of having a single secure portal for members of the public to send in relevant mobile phone pics or videos associated with an incident or ongoing investigation.
Of course, the naysayers will point to costs and having to reinvent the wheel, but this a fallacy. Many forces I speak to, whether they realize it or not, already have the fundamental technology infrastructure in place (this came with the move away from tape to digital in an era slightly before the digital evidence boom). What’s more, some have begun building upon this foundation, giving them the ability to not only collate, but also to analyze and share growing volumes of digital evidence.
Managing growing digital evidence isn’t a technology problem – solutions such as NICE Investigate can address this problem today. The bigger challenge is changing mindsets and processes that have been set in stone for many years – and granted, this could take time. But with digital evidence growing by leaps and bounds, time may just be the one luxury that police forces cannot afford.