It would be fair to say that no matter what the outcome of the general election in May would have been, police forces in England and Wales were already bracing themselves for the axe to fall. The announcement in December of a 5% funding cut for forces to take effect in 2015/16 was a sign of things to come, with often disputed falling crime figures being used to argue the case for less to be spent on policing.
Just weeks after the election, Home Secretary Theresa May was tasked with addressing the Police Federation of England and Wales at its annual conference in Bournemouth. Her overarching message was that more cost savings would need to be found over the next five years. Like it or not, forces are going to have to try find ways to tighten their belts further, and with negligible impact to front-line neighborhood policing. It’s a tall order, but there are areas where gains can be made. One area that immediately springs to mind (which is part of the Home Office mandate) is improving the process by which digital evidence is collected and managed.
We’ve all seen the headline-grabbing stories about body-worn cameras and other technology innovations, but the truth is – very little had taken place in terms of serious long-term Information Communications Technology (ICT) planning. Mid-2014, former Policing minister, Damien Green, mandated a 2-year deadline for all forces in England and Wales to be able to digitally share evidence with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and courts. Since then forces have been scrambling to become compliant. This is no small feat because most of the processes for compiling and sharing digital evidence are very manual, time-consuming and resource intensive.
Today, digital evidence must be collated from various formats, burned to DVDs, and physically transported to wherever it’s needed. It is a long, laborious and costly process. And, beginning in April of 2016, evidence reproduced in this manner (e.g. DVDs, along with paper reports), will no longer be admissible in court.
The looming deadline has many police forces quite nervous. But they need not fear. Because even though they may not know it, most of them already have a solid foundation in place for meeting these new requirements – which starts with recorded communications. So, in reality, for most, achieving compliance will be a process of evolution, not revolution.
The key to meeting these new requirements is to layer a digital evidence management solution on top of their existing recording system. Essentially, the digital evidence management solution compiles various pieces of multi-media evidence, for example audio recordings (999 calls, suspect interviews, radio communications), together with photos and videos (from CCTV, mobile devices and body-worn cameras), and other essential evidence, in an electronic format. The various time-stamped elements can be time-synchronized into a multimedia timeline and replayed from start to finish.
Furthermore, the complete multimedia reconstruction is securely stored in an incident case folder that can be distributed to CPS and courts on demand, at the simple click of a button. This new approach makes DVDs a thing of the past. Constables no longer have to waste time transporting them. Having instant access to case evidence electronically, from one place, not only saves time and money; it improves the thoroughness and effectiveness of investigations.
What has always been impressive about forces across England and Wales is how they continually adapt and respond to changes and challenges, whether it’s new types of crime, or coping with tough government mandates such as they are faced with now.
Digital evidence management on its own will not bridge the 5% funding gap, but it will create significant resource savings and process efficiency improvements. I urge forces to do the simple math. Take a look at the number of DVDs your department created in the past year, the time and cost spent producing them and transporting them. I suspect it will be a big number! And keep in mind, that’s only a fraction of the savings and benefits that can be achieved by employing digital evidence management.