CSIs get ‘smart’ on forensic evidence

Crime scene investigators (CSIs) in West Yorkshire are using smartphone-based policing applications to save valuable time each shift with automated administration, while at the same time strengthening chain of evidence.

Jul 26, 2017
By Paul Jacques

Crime scene investigators (CSIs) in West Yorkshire are using smartphone-based policing applications to save valuable time each shift with automated administration, while at the same time strengthening chain of evidence.

The 200-strong CSI unit is using the Airwave Pronto forensics mobile solution to cut evidence entry into the criminal justice system to mere minutes, alleviating some of the administrative pressure being felt by forces across the country.

This latest agreement builds on West Yorkshire Police’s existing use of the Pronto service – which has been described as “the next generation of the familiar police paper notebook” – that saw officers take more than 4,000 witness statements via handheld devices in April alone.

The Pronto forensics suite used by the CSI unit – which operates across the West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire and Humberside police forces – automates many steps in the forensic ‘bag and tag’ procedure, resulting in the processing of more crime scenes per shift, while strengthening chain of evidence security.

Historically, the collection, labelling, and processing of evidence at police stations involved manual, duplicated tasks that could be more prone to human error. For example, once a piece of evidence was tagged with a hand-written label, the CSI would then add the same information into multiple forms and databases so it could be used in ongoing investigations.

With the Pronto application, investigators can create and print labels from Bluetooth-enabled devices while on the scene, with key information centrally accessible via the platform. New assignments from across the region can also be pushed to units in the field, removing the need to return to the station between jobs, improving operational efficiency even further.

“In many cases the very important work done by CSI teams is not as glamorous as television shows would have some believe,” said Chief Inspector Ian Williams, digital policing lead for West Yorkshire Police.

“From simple break and entries to complex homicides, almost a quarter of an investigator’s time can be spent simply documenting items. Now, evidence is making its way into the criminal justice system in minutes, not hours.

“Additionally, Pronto fosters regional collaboration. Specialist teams such as forensics, firearms and dog squads are often shared across forces. Collaborative systems like Pronto break down digital barriers by allowing for greater sharing of information and resources, which helps speed up the entire justice process.”

West Yorkshire Police’s ‘digital transformation’ was recognised at the recent Public Sector Paperless awards, where it won the ‘Process and Workflow – Project of the Year’ category for its use of digital technology to support all frontline policing. The awards “acknowledge, celebrate and reward exceptional progress towards the goal to becoming a paperless environment”.

Airwave, part of Motorola Solutions, says its Pronto solution is a complete digital replacement for an officer’s paper notebook, operational processes and forms. It provides remote, mobile access to all key policing systems, allowing officers to capture, reuse and validate information on the front line and synchronise it with back-office systems, dramatically reducing the form-filling process and allowing officers to process information anywhere and at any time.

Phil Jefferson, Motorola Solutions’ sales vice-president in UK and Ireland, said: “A third of the UK’s police forces have embraced Pronto to work more collaboratively and effectively. The time saved not only means officers can spend more time in the field and with the public, but also there are hard cost savings to be made with operational efficiency. This is incredibly important during a time of budget scrutiny and the public’s demand for greater visibility.”

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