New digital police team decoding phones and trawling CCTV to crack crime

DI Holly Evans of Suffolk Constabulary Picture: RACHEL EDGE

DI Holly Evans of Suffolk Constabulary Picture: RACHEL EDGE - Credit: RACHEL EDGE

A new crack team of digital specialists have been appointed at Suffolk police. MICHAEL STEWARD met with DI Holly Evans to find out more about the roles, the changing landscape in investigations, and the reaction from detectives.

Members of the new digital support team at Suffolk police face the camera Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABUL

Members of the new digital support team at Suffolk police face the camera Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY - Credit: Archant

Recruitment began in the summer. Suffolk Constabulary wanted to find 16 new digital support officers to aid detectives in "complex investigations" across the county.

The job advertisment stated candidates needed a "strong understanding" of digital investigation and that previous experience in an IT, digital or social media environment was desirable.

The roles were filled and the team began its innovative work capturing digital evidence alongside detectives in November.

Detective Inspector Holly Evans, who has been leading the team, said the roles were designed following meetings with detectives about the challenges they face tackling modern-day crime.

DI Holly Evans of Suffolk Constabulary Picture: RACHEL EDGE

DI Holly Evans of Suffolk Constabulary Picture: RACHEL EDGE - Credit: RACHEL EDGE

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"I don't think it's a shock to anybody that a huge part of the work we do now, every investigation has got a digital element to it," DI Evans said.

"A phone carries more data on it than most computers do and you have to think about the time, the effort, the skill set that's required in order to manage that data and meet our disclosure requirements.

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"Detectives are phenomenally skilled but a lot of them haven't had the opportunity to be exposed to this kind of thing.

"We spoke to nearly 70% of the detectives in the organisation face-to-face, and those we couldn't speak with face-to-face, we contacted remotely and asked them, 'What do you think you need within the digital space to do your job better?'.

"The overwhelming feedback was that they just wanted someone with the skills who was dedicated to them as a team to support them. Whether that be on the small enquiries around the management of CCTV software and programs or trawling through two million lines of data."

DI Evans said the skills the new specialists possess means they might discover an important piece of information within the data.

"They {the digital officers] don't carry a case, so they aren't the owner of a single investigation, but they provide bespoke support to every officer for their investigations," she said.

"For example, if you'd recovered a mobile phone from a job, you would send it off and get the report back in terms of the content of the data.

"They will sit down with the parameters they've got and work through that and look for evidential opportunities.

"The training and skills they already bring means they might see things that we wouldn't necessarily be aware of.

"Because unless you're in to coding or a fanatic about tech or technology, you wouldn't necessarily know that within that data there might be information about specific websites and content they've looked at or the time and order they've looked at it.

"So it's really unique to every investigation what their role will be."

Members of the team have come from varied technology backgrounds, which is another positive for DI Evans.

"Predominately they've come from outside the organisation which, for me, is brilliant because anyone who can come in and bring something that we don't already have is great," she said.

"Some of the external people have come from ICT backgrounds, communications backgrounds, some of them have come from software in terms of building it for insurance companies, some have come from gaming backgrounds, there's a real mix."

So what has the response been from the force's hard-nosed detectives?

"We've had some amazing feedback from the detectives, some of which you might have thought would have been a bit nervous about the process," DI Evans said.

"It's like change of any sort, sometimes people are on board, sometime people take a bit longer but there's been some really good feedback, especially around the work we do around sexual offences identifying things on people's phones.

"They're brilliant at naturally being able to manage products and CCTV and put together things a lot quicker.

"They're so passionate and keen to help us with our crimes, it's really refreshing as well.

"Despite initial fears, they've been massively embraced. I've had no negative responses in that respect at all.

"The detectives are managing so many demands, so to have someone you know is dedicated that has the skill set and understanding of looking at that and we can be confident that we can say yes we've done what we need to do in regards of the investigation is a massive step forward."

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