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Police watchdog warns forces over failure to exploit technology

David Bicknell Published 07 March 2017

HMIC says forces are often unable to exploit digital investigative opportunities because they have insufficient capacity or capability

 

A report by the independent watchdog body Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has raised questions over police forces’ adoption of technology.

In a report into police effectiveness , HMIC warned that although technology is increasingly an integral part of our lives, it remains concerned that police forces are not keeping pace with how technology is transforming the lives of citizens and changing how they experience crime.

It argued that many people are affected by online crime. Last year, the watchdog said that one in ten adults was a victim at least once of fraud and computer misuse. Offenders are also increasingly using online methods to commit crime. 30% of blackmail offences, 45% of obscene publication offences and 11% of both stalking and harassment and child sexual offences were committed online in full or in part during 2016.

This is a problem that worries the public: 82% think online crime is a big problem and 68% think the same about online anti-social behaviour. However, 42% do not feel confident that their local police could deal with online crime. It is important that this lack of public confidence is addressed, HMIC says.

HMIC went on to say that technology also provides the police with opportunities to investigate crime and apprehend suspects. But in too many cases, according to HMIC, forces are unable to exploit digital investigative opportunities because they have insufficient capacity or capability to do so.

It also warned that digital forensic capability and capacity is not keeping up with demand. “Forces have taken steps to shorten the time taken to examine devices such as mobile phones and laptops for evidence. At the time of our inspection, just over 16,000 digital devices were still awaiting examination. Some 75% of devices had been waiting for less than three months, and there were far fewer devices that had been waiting for over 12 months.

“However, some of the ways in which forces have achieved these improvements, such as using overtime to tackle backlogs of work, are not sustainable. There is still variation in the extent to which forces have backlogs in digital examinations, with four forces having considerably higher levels of backlog than the rest.”

HMIC suggested that although considerable work is going on with police leaders, supported by bodies such as the College of Policing, on the capability required to retrieve and manage digital evidence, including the need to recruit and train the police workforce for the digital future, at the time of its inspection, “there was not the evidence to suggest that the service has established an achievable approach to ensuring that it can meet this increasing demand.”

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