A UK police force has collected thousands of items of digital evidence from businesses and citizens using a new one-stop solution.
As communities become more digitalised, the need for officers to interact with even greater volumes and more diverse forms of digital evidence is on the rise, it has been claimed.
In the first two months of 2022, Hampshire Constabulary collected over 11,000 pieces of digital evidence from businesses and citizens.
Stephanie Wilkins, Digital Evidence Management Support Coordinator, Hampshire Constabulary, estimates that each piece of evidence collected and processed typically consumes an hour of an officer’s time.
Collecting CCTV video requires an officer to travel to the business location, request a copy of the video, wait for it to be downloaded and copied, and then make the return trip back to the station, often to find that the proprietary video is not in a playable format.
Gathering evidence from citizens can be similarly problematic.
For example, accessing evidence from a mobile phone would typically require an officer to confiscate the device for a period of time (hours or even days) in order to download evidence, something few citizens are eager to do.
Finally, sharing evidence with the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) was a challenge too, especially when it involved complex files.
“It was a constant source of frustration for officers who needed to manually upload individual images to NicheRMS, then compress into a template, because they could only send images that were less than one megabyte,” added Wilkins.
To address these challenges, Hampshire Constabulary, and other SERIP forces, have deployed the NICE Investigate Digital Evidence Management Solution.
Running on the secure Microsoft Azure Cloud and part of the Evidencentral suite, NICE Investigate is a one-stop solution for automating manual processes around the collection, management, analysis and sharing of all types of digital evidence.
Now, instead of traveling to sites to physically gather CCTV footage, officers collect it without leaving the office. Businesses register their cameras in NICE Investigate which geolocates them, along with their contact details.
When a crime occurs, officers view camera locations on a map and send out an electronic request for the footage.
The business simply uploads the files into NICE Investigate’s secure portal, where they are virus-checked, automatically converted to a playable format and deposited into an electronic case file for immediate viewing.
Hampshire has also taken the lead in an initiative to encourage national retailers and independent stores to register their cameras, to make video more readily available to other forces across England and Wales.
Wilkins said: “By encouraging retailers to register their cameras it will help us and other forces better support the business community in their quest to prosecute organized and opportunistic crimes that are committed against them.”
The process of soliciting evidence from citizens has also been greatly simplified.
With NICE Investigate, an officer can create and share a public appeal with the community in a matter of minutes.
Appeal pages are created and published in the NICE Investigate Community Portal with a ‘Respond to the Appeal’ .
The appeal can be posted on the force website, and links shared on social channels and the media. Officers are also able to send the link directly to individuals with whom they have met during their enquiries.
Using this link, citizens can quickly and easily upload photos, audio recordings, videos, dashcam footage, or tips related to an investigation.
These enhancements have netted huge efficiency savings for Hampshire Constabulary, projected* at a total estimated saving of £846k of officer’s time annually on automated ingestion and case builds only.
Another benefit of NICE Investigate is that officers no longer have to navigate different systems to manage digital evidence, as its records management system (NicheRMS), Body Worn Video system (Reveal) and CSI images (Fotoware) are all connected.
NICE Investigate searches across these connected systems to automatically find relevant digital evidence and deposits it into the relevant case file. As soon as officers logs in, the evidence is available.
Wilkins explains: “Our focus is to automatically connect all our digital evidence into NICE Investigate, so it’s easy and efficient for officers to collect.”
NICE Investigate also makes it easier to share evidence with the CPS, including the ability to redact evidence before it is sent, which helps to ensure compliance with GDPR.
“We can now send secure links to all forms of digital evidence directly from the system, rather than sending actual media files,” added Wilkins. “We can digitally share our evidence with CPS in a much more time efficient way, without concerns over file size limits, and in a much more secure way as well.”
Since its introduction, NICE Investigate has experienced high adoption throughout the force, with over 2,000 officers utilizing the system each month.
“Once our officers were able to see the benefits of the system, how much time it has saved them, and how much easier it has made their work, they were all for it,” said Wilkins.
Hampshire Constabulary has recently connected Digital Interview Recordings to NICE Investigate and the connection of 999 recordings is coming soon.
This will make life ever easier for officers, since they will no longer need to manually request audio recordings, or manually record and upload their interviews.
The constabulary is also looking to add functionality which will streamline evidence sharing with other forces, to aid in investigations. With these new integrations and functionality on the horizon, Wilkins expects the forces will realize even more benefits going forward.