UK police digital forensics delays expose victims to ‘unnecessary risk’: report

UK police have been ineffective in processing digital forensics, causing “unacceptable” delays and exposing victims to “unnecessary risk,” police watchdog said.

In a recent report, Her Majesty’s Police and Fire and Rescue Service (HMICFRS) inspectors explored how effective police are at gathering evidence from digital devices such as smartphones and computers.

Service inspectors concluded that UK police lack a clear understanding of digital forensics and are overwhelmed with a backlog of over 25,000 devices awaiting investigation.

As a result, we found that the inspection of electronic devices was significantly delayed, adversely affecting the prosecution of criminals and the health of victims.

His Majesty’s Police Inspector Matt Parr said: However, our research did not identify enough examples of effective and efficient use of digital forensics by law enforcement. “

“Many units did not fully understand the work required to retrieve evidence from mobile phones. It means cops are missing an opportunity to bring criminals to justice,” he added.

“unreasonable delay”

The report notes that “evidence generated by digital forensics is compelling and is considered a prime target for investigation by investigators and prosecutors”, but the UK police “are unable to keep up with the scale of the challenges they face.” I have not,” he said.

He added, “In some cases, we’ve found that police don’t understand the implications of digital forensics. We found a nationwide backlog of over 25,000 devices awaiting investigation. It did not include all possible devices.”

Inspectors said delays in testing the devices slowed down the criminal justice process and “has a negative impact on the quality of the investigation,” adding: risk. “

In one case, digital evidence related to child abuse was recovered months after submission because it was rated as “low priority.”

In another case, there was an obscenity charge involving a child, and the suspect lived near several schools. However, the suspect was released on bail, and despite being considered high-risk, the relevant digital evidence was not investigated five months after it was filed.

Even more alarming, in some cases, high-risk criminals were released without bail restrictions after magistrates refused to extend bail despite delays in investigating digital evidence.

Watchdog said this was “totally unacceptable” because “every time this happens, the victim is likely to fail and be at risk, making protection more difficult.”

“Postal code lottery”

Investigators say victims face a zip code lottery at the service they receive, some units begin digital forensic examinations within weeks of a crime being reported, and others find evidence in similar cases. It took 18 months to start collecting.

Parr said the performance of different police units can vary greatly. “Some forces are promising and we have seen examples of good practice. However, we have found little evidence that this good practice is more widely shared and adopted by others.”

“There are large gaps in performance that cannot be sustained. It is unacceptable that victims in some troop areas receive much better service than others,” he said.

Delays in digital review have contributed to victims losing confidence in the criminal justice system and withdrawing support for prosecutions, according to the report.

“Throughout this inspection, we were told by many investigators that delays in digital forensic services undermined investigations and impacted relationships with victims. There were many examples of victims who did not.”

HMICFRS has developed a set of recommendations for improving digital forensics. This includes the appointment of a national digital forensics policing leader, an increase in the number of dedicated, competent and trained digital media investigators, and a Home Office review of the digital forensics budget.

Mr Parr said:

“Serious challenge”

Deputy Chief Constable Paul Gibson, director of the Digital Forensics Division of the National Police Commissioners’ Council (NPCC), welcomed the report’s findings.

“Today, virtually all crimes have a digital component and often involve vast amounts of complex data,” he said. “This poses a serious challenge to policing. We recognize this, we recognize the need to do more, and we are taking action.”

He cited the NPCC’s Digital Forensics Science Strategy, published in July 2020, and presented a “roadmap for improving the delivery and use of digital forensics across law enforcement.”

He said the police chief has provided a suite of mobile frontline digital forensic tools to enable the military to “provide technology to rape victims.” This includes mobile digital forensic vans and specialized digital equipment.

“This initiative means providing more sensitive services to victims, enabling investigators to access appropriate digital evidence quickly and appropriately, and enabling devices to be returned more quickly.” he said.

PA Media contributed to this report.

Alexander Chan