Eight Reasons Why UK Police Forces are Handling More Digital Evidence

Investigations have become more complex and faster moving and one of the reasons lies in the rise of digital technology. Today, almost all investigations now feature some degree of digital evidence, however, police forces are still struggling to manage big and complex data manually. In order to understand how it can be dealt with better, we must first consider what is driving the exponential increase in digital evidence?

  1. The rise of the smartphone - The use of smartphones reflects our habits, interests and contacts and this is clearly important information in any investigation regarding victims, witnesses and suspects.
  2. Use of body worn video - All police forces are now equipped with body worn video and they also carry the associated storage requirements.
  3. Requirement to digitally record interviews - The proportion of crime involving vulnerable victims and witnesses had increased and legislation has demanded that interviews with such people is digitally recorded and retained where necessary for court proceedings.
  4. Investigations have increased with a greater awareness of online criminality - One example of so called 'hidden' crime is the online sharing of indecent images of children (IIOC). Staff members are tasked with trawling through indecent material in order to obtain and process evidence relating to such crimes, presenting a major concern for staff wellbeing.
  5. Increasing reliance on video surveillance and drone footage - Overt surveillance technology remains commonplace through CCTV and ANPR. Drone technology can also be added to this category and it is interesting to note the increased expenditure by police forces on drones.
  6. Digital evidence resulting from covert operations - Covert policing is a necessary and commonplace tactic for the investigation of serious and organized crimes, often relying on digital audio and video evidence of criminality.
  7. Multimedia crowd sourced information - Crowd sourcing is required following major incidents and serious crimes in which a sudden upsurge in digital data can often see legacy systems crashing e.g. a surge in 999 calls or a police force twitter account receiving visual image data.  However, critical evidence often lies in such high-volume data with the need to extract key data within a short time frame.
  8. Advances in biometric technology - Traditional methods of fingerprint and DNA evidence are now joined by other biometrics such as facial and voice recognition.

The significant increase in the volume and variety of digital evidence, coupled with the way in which it has emerged somewhat organically, is causing police forces to think about how they deal with the both the opportunities and challenges. For example, investment has been made in body worn video without a holistic digital strategy or link to the other types of digital evidence. This silo approach to digital evidence results in inefficient processes for investigators, as they trawl a whole range of systems to gather evidence.

The police also have a major role in the judicial system and legislation, primarily the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act, 1996, requires forces to disclose evidence. The disclosure of digital evidence presents a challenge and failure to do so effectively has led to the collapse of prosecutions with a hugely detrimental effect on victims and to public confidence. Indeed, disclosure of digital evidence currently stands quite high in many police force's strategic risks.

Police forces are now taking a very close look at how they can use technology to better manage their digital data silos, through the adoption of Digital Evidence Management (DEM) solutions such as NICE Investigate. A huge advantage for Police forces is that NICE Investigate is agnostic meaning it leverages systems already in place (no need to rip and replace existing systems and a freedom to choose the best solution for the force when it's time to upgrade). It works by consolidating the silos of digital data, automating the collection, analysis and sharing of digital data with the ability to search both structured and non-structured data across all systems as well as highlighting additional evidence that may be relevant. Such levels of automation frees up time for the investigators but also helps to uncover additional connections to other cases which may have been overlooked. Significantly and importantly cases are closed quicker.

Finally, it seems, the days of police forces struggling to manage big and complex data manually are starting to come to an end!

About the author: Currently a consultant to the Public Safety industry, Paul Kennedy formerly served as Deputy Chief Constable for the North Yorkshire Police.

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