Whether a police officer of police staff investigator is involved in investigating a report of malicious communication, a domestic incident, or the most serious of crimes, such as a murder, technology forms a large part of the investigation.
Technology brings about change itself, where updates and new technology are applied to investigations, so this rapidly evolving aspect of investigations requires police forces to keep pace with change, including the training of staff.
Police frequently receive reports of malicious communication, which is the sending of messages which are intended to cause offence, or are indecent, obscene or menacing. Offences of this type can be quite serious, certainly in terms of the impact caused to the victim, however, they are commonplace and where it is in the public interest to investigate, this will involve the seizure of a suspect`s phone or other electronic equipment from where the message was sent.
These devices will then need to be analysed to provide evidence, which takes time and officers to be trained to extract the data. Domestic incidents invariably require a similar level of investigation to prove that there was communication which may have been prohibited. Evidence may also be required to show a person`s presence in a location, which may be provided from the household router, or phone mast analyst.
Data downloaded from routers also provides evidence in offences of drug supply, where phone numbers attributed to a person can be proven to have been at a house or flat. Data from routers is gathered because smartphones automatically connect to the internet service. This will show that persons known to be drug users have attended the home where drugs are supplied from or used at.
I am currently investigating the theft of a high value vehicle. Whilst I cannot provide any detail of a current investigation, it does involve data obtained from Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and phone cell site analyst, which will help to prove movements and times that the suspect was at certain locations.
Serious crime will involve digital media investigation which will be very extensive, often involving many people and numerous devices. Fraud is another crime which uses the internet. It is a massive area where digital media is used to commit crime, some of which is at a sophisticated level by organised crime groups who are highly intelligent.
Hopefully the above will give you an insight into the wide range of crimes where digital media is used to investigate crime and the police service has had to adapt to this changing world and in some areas, they lag behind.
All police forces will have Digital Media Investigators who possess the skills to extract data and most importantly, can interpret it so that lay persons can understand the information. These officers are experts and the evidence they provide is very compelling in a court. As technology increases the number of trained officers and staff will need to increase too. Funding will be needed to not only train a sufficient number of investigators, but to provide equipment used to cater for the demand and to keep pace with more sophisticated systems.
Much work is outsourced too because police officers cannot be expected to possess too much technology skills, since this is not the basic function of an officer. When I started out in my career 28 years ago, investigations were not at all technological. It was all about talking to people and gathering evidence by obtaining witness accounts and taking lengthy statements to describe as much detail as possible.
CCTV was the first big change, but these were on video cassettes and images were printed on separate photographs obtained from the video recording. Rapid changes have taken place which see technology used in virtually all investigations, however, as good at it is, all police forces still require officers with the ability to speak to people on all levels and obtain evidence by talking to them.
Over the years, officers have evolved where the same basic skills are still required, but their skills have become wider to use technology too. It is this blend of skills and knowledge which is now required to become an effective police officer.
For people considering a career in the police, please don`t think that the technology skills required are advanced in any way, since only a basic understanding is required. Your local forces` recruitment will inform you of the requirements needed to apply, which should dispel any concerns you may have. Switching quickly to Covid-19, this week has seen a significant change in the government rules and advice, which will cause some confusion, so to keep updated, please visit:
PC 1860 Mark Ranola.
Yateley Police Office.