Police forces have been given unprecedented powers to help reduce the spread of coronavirus, but in order for them to be able carry out those duties, it is vital that their exposure to the risk of infection, whether person-to-person, or object-to-person is reduced wherever possible.
Front-line officers are trying to adhere to social distancing rules wherever possible, but when dealing with victims, suspects and witnesses, interacting with colleagues and representatives from other agencies (typically ambulance and hospital staff) it is clearly a challenge.
In addition to social distancing there are other measures forces have put in place to reduce unnecessary contact, such as enabling some working from home, stopping hot-desking and conducting meetings virtually where possible. However, there is more that can be done to limit exposure, particularly in the handling of evidence. Common types of vital evidence officers handle many times a day, such as CDs containing footage from CCTV systems, portable storage devices, photos and documents, can harbour the Coronavirus for as much as five days.
The good news is there has been an objective in place for some time, to move away from physically handling this type of evidence, as part of force digital transformation strategies. Digital Evidence Management projects introduced to improve the streamlining of how evidence is gathered, stored, investigated and shared (internally and with the CPS), have the distinct advantage of keeping digital evidence digital, and in doing so removes the potential (however slight) for an officer to come into contact with a contaminated item.
Here’s how a Digital Evidence Management System (DEMS) helps:
- Removing the ‘physical touch’ from digital evidence by eliminating the need to copy evidence onto CDs and USB drives
- Enables employees to work remotely and securely to support social distancing. Investigators, analysts, CCTV specialists and their managers to all work effectively from home
- Reduces face-to-face contact during evidence collection by helping investigators reduce their travel and public contact. CCTV video evidence and other evidence can be secured remotely
- Reduces potential virus spread among different units by enabling employees quickly and efficiently to share information digitally
- Minimise repeat in-person contact with victims and witnesses by recording phone, video and Skype interviews from home and linking these recordings electronically to cases
- Enable secure, electronic sharing of case evidence with the CPS thereby minimising face-to-face contact and handling of physical media
For example, in dealing with a theft an officer would need to travel to the scene of the incident to retrieve the CCTV (which is provided on physical medium such as a disc or other storage device), and take a witness statement face-to-face. However, it is now easy for CCTV footage to be directly uploaded and statements recorded without an officer needing to be present, whilst crucially preserving the chain of custody. This is not only safer in the current circumstances, but also a far better use of the officers time. Another major benefit of managing digital evidence in this way is that all material is held in securely in a digital case folder, meaning officers are not tied to the desk when conducting their investigations.
Many forces who have already deployed their DEMS and are already reaping the benefits at this time of ‘zero physical contact’ and its helping reduce risk. Serving as a police officer will always hold an inherent danger. Their job is to reduce threat, harm and risk in our society and we have a duty of care to do the same for them.
To learn more please Register to attend a webinar on this topic on Wednesday 15th April at 10am UK / 11pm CET / 7pm AEST. See The impact of the current crisis within the control room and on dispatch functions, and on follow up investigations and on-going case building and criminal justice processes. Also hear about details of a solution (trusted by over 40,000 officers globally) that can be deployed in hours. The solution is available to your department at no-cost during the COVID-19 crisis.