Police forces overwhelmed and ineffective when it comes to digital forensics, new report finds

Police forces are unable to keep pace with technology when it comes to digital forensics – and there is a backlog of more than 25,000 devices waiting to be examined, a new report has found.

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Digital forensics: An inspection into how well the police and other agencies use digital forensics in their investigations

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) examined how effective the police are at providing digital forensics – capturing evidence from a range of different digital devices, from smartphones to computers.

Inspectors concluded some forces were overwhelmed and did not have a clear understanding of what digital forensics are. This led to huge delays in examining devices, which had a knock-on effect on both victims’ wellbeing and chances of a successful prosecution. And there was no clear and coherent national plan for improvement.

The inspectorate said victims face a postcode lottery with the service they receive, with some forces starting digital forensic examinations within weeks of a crime being reported, while others took 18 months to begin capturing evidence in a similar case.

HMICFRS has made nine recommendations to help policing improve. These include:

  • an alternative operating model to provide effective and sustainable digital forensic services to support police investigations, designed by the Home Office, National Police Chiefs’ Council, College of Policing and the private sector;
  • appointing a national digital forensics policing lead to oversee a programme of improvement;
  • a Home Office review into digital forensics budget and future funding; and
  • an increase in the number of dedicated, competent and trained digital media investigators available to advise investigators and at crime scenes.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said:

“The rapid emergence of a digital society has created a huge opportunity for police to gather new types of evidence and identify criminals. But in our inspection, we didn’t see enough examples of policing making effective and efficient use of digital forensics.

“Many forces didn’t have a sufficient level of understanding of the work involved to recover evidence from mobile phones. Delays, lack of resources and lack of adequate training means some victims are being let down and officers are missing their chance to bring offenders to justice. During our inspection we found more than 25,000 devices waiting to be examined, and this doesn’t take into account all the devices already in the system.

“Some forces are showing promise, and we did see examples of good practice. But we found little evidence of this good practice being more widely shared and adopted by others. There is an enormous gulf in performance that cannot continue – it is unacceptable that victims in some force areas receive a significantly better service than others.

“The demand in digital crime will only continue to grow, so police leaders need to work with the Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service to tackle this immediately. Our report makes nine recommendations to address these issues. It is clear from our inspection that victims cannot afford to wait any longer for police to start taking this more seriously.”

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Digital forensics: An inspection into how well the police and other agencies use digital forensics in their investigations


  1. For further information, the HMICFRS Press Office can be contacted at 0300 071 6781 or HMICPressOffice@hmicfrs.gov.uk.