At our annual Digital Policing conference in May 2021, we heard from leaders within the Crime and Justice sector about the role of digital technology in modern policing.

We heard of the value of integrating technological tools in front line policing and police training. Particularly, the use and the benefits of digital technology in Crime Scene Investigation should be noted.

A report titled Digital Forensic Science Strategy was published in 2020 by the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) [1]. It outlined the need for an awareness of the benefits of technology in crime scene investigation.

“To date, however, we haven’t been quick enough or coordinated enough in making use of the potential that digital forensics offer, to find a way to take advantage of the huge advances in mobile, cloud, artificial intelligence, sensors and analytics that are commonplace in almost every other walk of life” [1]

“While crime and criminals have become ever more digitally sophisticated, our response, at every level of law enforcement, has been slow, fractured, and piecemeal. To create a justice system that truly meets the needs of the public in the digital age, while also meeting demands for greater efficiency, we must think differently about our approach to every element of digital – and digital forensics in particular.” [1]


The Regional Scientific Support Services in Yorkshire

Peter Arnold spoke at the conference about the role of technology in Crime Scene Investigation [2].

Peter has worked in the field of Crime Scene Investigation for over 19 years and has held several operational CSI roles including Crime Scene Investigator, Crime Scene Manager, Area Forensic Manager and now Head of Operations leading the four forces Yorkshire and Humber Regional Scientific Support Service (RSSS). The force includes a unique multi-force, cross-border dedicated regional forensic control room with full integration across four different force command and control systems.

The Regional Scientific Support Services of Yorkshire cover 11% of England and 15,420km². These are Humberside, South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, and West Yorkshire Police.


[2] The Regional Scientific Support Services of Yorkshire (RSSS)

Outside of the Metropolitan Police force, the RSSS of Yorkshire is the biggest scientific support department in the country. They deploy up to 200 Crime Scene Investigators across a 24-hour basis and they operate across 11 bases. The headquarters are in Wakefield.


The Regional Forensic Control Room in Wakefield

Crime Scene Investigations in Yorkshire are controlled, planned, and coordinated from the Regional Forensic Control room at the headquarters.

The control room interfaces with the 4 different control and command systems across the forces, using digital, regional talk groups to connect and communicate. Additionally, a borderless deployment model is in place so that the deployment of crime investigation teams is quick and efficient.

Peter notes the core systems that the headquarters have adopted to promote efficiency in their investigations. There is an integrated Steria SmartSTORM system that is configured for forensic use, as well as the GoodSam app which is used for virtual crime scene assessment.

The GoodSam app provides the ability to view the crime scene remotely, giving the team at the control room time to decide whether it is worth deploying investigators to the scene or not. The virtual assessment enables the team to talk directly to the victim through real-time streaming to the control room. It is recorded for audit purposes.

[2] Regional Forensic Control room in Wakefield

The Use of Mobile Technology in CSI

Peter gave us an overview of the process of logging data from a crime scene prior to the introduction of mobile technology:

Back in 2016, the process involved:

  • Receiving an address over the airwaves to attend the crime scene. The address information would need to be recorded manually and then entered into a sat nav.
  • When at the scene, evidence would be gathered, and details would be recorded by hand.
  • Information is then written again onto a paper CSI report, sent back to the office, and typed up there.
  • From the office, images were sent to the fingerprint department. All this paperwork had to be stored carefully.

This process required a lot of duplication, a lot of time and a lot of opportunity for human error. Investigators would become bogged down with this process and tied up with paperwork.

Many CSI departments still work like this across the UK, however, the RSSS of Yorkshire worked hard to move away from this method of working.

Peter explains how the department teamed up with Motorola to come up with a new way of doing things. Together they developed a brand-new CSI app.

The app is fully integrated with the Regional Forensic Command and Control room and the Regional Forensic Case Management System. The old system of manually recording case data is now done on the mobile tablet device.

Useful things that can be done on the mobile device:

  • Evidence labels can be printed at the scene to stick on evidence bags. This is quicker and less error prone than handwriting labels.
  • Fingerprints can be sent directly from the crime scene to the fingerprint department to get rapid identification of suspects.
  • The app displays outstanding incidents and crime scenes that are waiting to be attended. All delivered in real time and mirrors the command-and-control system.
  • The app can be used to put together crime scene reports. It does this by pulling data from the command-and-control system into the crime scene investigation report and is then pushed into the case management system. Full integration between front end and back-end control systems, through the app.
  • Manuel interventions have been fully replaced by one piece of technology; this has resulted in a reduction of error by 70%.

Development of Mobile Identification Solutions

Technology has been developed that enables a fingerprint reader to be connected to the tablet through a USB port. When the fingerprint is taken, the device searches all fingerprint records including the IDENT1 (Criminal records) and the IAMS (Immigration) databases.

This allows rapid identification of suspects as well as providing the ability to identify unknown bodies at crime scenes. This identification can be done in under 6 seconds.

The Transforming Forensics programme:

Additionally, the Transforming Forensics programme assisted the RSSS of Yorkshire to develop their own app to speed up fingerprint identification. Using this app, crime scene investigators can transfer digital images from a crime scene to their tablet device. The images are then sent from the tablet to the fingerprint and identification department.

The Impact of Technology on Crime Scene Investigations in Yorkshire

Peter recalls how incorporating technology into crime scene investigation has required a huge culture shift. Many investigators have been using old methods for many years and need to be encouraged to adopt technology into their way of working.

However, the results are clear:

  • Photographing fingerprints increases the quality of the images, there has been a decrease in fingerprint images that are unusable.
  • 9000 crime scene fingerprints are passed through the digital system a month, with 70% of these sent directly from the scene.
  • Receiving the results from a fingerprint identification is now 24 hours faster. Priority cases in which suspects need identifying quickly, can see results back within 1-2 hours of first arrival at the crime scene.
  • Increased visibility because investigators are no longer just stuck in the office doing admin, they can spend more time interacting with the crime scene and victims.
  • Increased flexibility for investigators. Workload is tackled at a quicker pace now which means investigators can assist other forces if need be.
  • Improved customer satisfaction and perception. Investigators appear professional, armed with the latest technology and victims can witness the speed of evidence processing.

Recommendations

A style of crime scene investigation that utilises technology, supports the move to remote and hybrid working. During the pandemic, the RSSS of Yorkshire were able to operate much of their services from home. This highlights a key motivation to adopt digital technology in Crime Scene Investigation departments to keep up with the changing face of work in the UK.

Peter reported an increase in investigator motivation. It is explained that the staff thoroughly enjoy using the tablet and would choose to never go back to old methods of working.

[1] National Police Chief’s Council. 2020. Digital Forensic Science Strategy

[2] Arnold, Peter. 2021. Head of Operations leading the four force Yorkshire and Humber Regional Scientific Support Service (RSSS)


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This case study will emphasise the need to incorporate digital technology in crime scene investigations. It uses the Regional Scientific Support Service (RSSS) of Yorkshire as an example of how digital technology can be used effectively in CSI.

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