Improvements in data processing for Digital Forensic Units is vital to clear the two to three year case backlogs facing the justice system
The case for smarter data processing for Digital Forensic Units (DFU’s) around the country is a powerful one. DFUs extract data from all available electronic evidence, processing it into actionable intelligence that can be presented for prosecution.
Ultimately, more efficient systems result in better protection and resolution for victims of serious crimes.
These efficiencies have other benefits including boosting staff morale, unlocking much needed funds for reinvestment and clearing years of case backlogs to free up a system that is notoriously under pressure.
How DFUs work
Current case backlogs are estimated to be at least two to three years behind, and if inefficiencies in data processing, particularly siloed data, are not addressed in the short term, they will fall further behind.
The ongoing proliferation of data means that where five years ago one case may have had an associated 500 gigabytes of data to sort, today the average number for a computer case is 2 terabytes, and in some cases known to be up to 60 or 70 terabytes.
Putting smarter systems in place to address this burgeoning need requires not only a sophisticated knowledge of how IT systems operate but also a deep understanding of how Digital Forensic Units (DFU’s) work.
Typically, DFU’s are a tech specialism within policing – they must operate within a closed LAN structure due to the delicate nature of the content they examine which means they are isolated from the broader network.
Not only are they working at the edge, but they are also under immense pressure with DFUs across the UK supporting a police force which is constantly gathering more digital evidence.
In fact, our growing digital footprint, including phones, cameras, electric vehicles and more, means that 90 percent of cases today are investigated via digital forensics.
Fundamentally, these units exist to protect innocent people – people who may be victims of a crime and those on the reverse end, those who are innocent yet separated from their families because a case is taking too long to be processed causing severe mental distress. In both cases, a quicker path to prosecution is critical.
A new law passed via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (2022) aims to ensure that no victim should be without their devices for more than 24hrs by the end of March 2023.
However, without a significant overhaul of current technology systems, this will be an incredibly difficult output to achieve and will likely result in increased pressure on an already overburdened force.
The reality is that focused IT management and mature technology solutions can not only make units more efficient, but can also unlock significant and much needed investment to overhaul systems.
Gearing systems up to do this internally would cost a quarter of the price which can free up funds that can then be used to create better working environments to retain skilled staff.
To make a change like this possible would require a specialist digital transformation team working in stages to stabilise and standardise systems, develop transformation and workflow programmes that feed into a technology roadmap that has buy-in from both the DFU units and the broader force.
Smart IT systems
Making the shift from siloed data processing to a ‘conveyor belt’ system is the key to efficiency and standardisation.
Harnessing advanced tools and software, smarter data analytics and visualisation, better cloud-based solutions and Artificial Intelligence enables DFUs to split data processing methods into simple steps which can easily be managed by lower-level technicians.
For instance, data acquisition would follow a series of simple steps to connect devices, follow a method and deliver an output. This process becomes a repeatable output that can be verified, validated and automated.
The drive to standardise data processing across DFU’s will require these systems to be in place and the reality is that it can be done.
It is important not only because victims deserve swift justice, but also to preserve those who serve and protect and to foster environments that enable productivity as well as better mental health.
By Nick Garland, who leads CDW’s Central and Secure Government business area. With more than 15 years of experience working in, with and for Government, Nick leads a team of people dedicated to meeting the customer’s unique technology needs. Prior to working for CDW, Nick spent 13 years in the British Army.