Digital forensic vans a ‘game-changer’ for policing, says PDS

Devon and Cornwall Police is the latest force to deploy mobile digital forensic units, known as ‘digivans’.

Oct 13, 2023
By Paul Jacques
Picture: Forensic Capability Network

The vans house cutting-edge technology that enables officers to “exploit digital data evidence” at the scene of a crime.

Recent evaluation conducted by the Police Digital Service (PDS) has found the capability to be a “game-changer” for both policing and victims.

In particular, forces found it led to around a 60 to 80 per cent reduction in the need for further examination of personal devices such as mobile phones, consoles and laptops.

Since 2022, 21 digivans have been deployed to 16 police forces across England and Wales, following the lead from Bedfordshire Police, which was the first to adopt the technology in 2018 as part of a self-funded pilot.

Commenting on the benefits, Bedfordshire Police Detective Inspector Peter Ward said: “Mobile phone acquisition tools afford trained examiners an opportunity to extract key evidence from suspect devices at crime scenes immediately following arrest.

“The ability to exploit digital data evidence at scene, within a sterile environment and disseminate straight to the interview staff has brought efficiencies to the overarching investigation, and ultimately to the criminal justice process.”

One year on from the first Home Office funded deployment, a review has been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of digivans, focusing on economic efficiency, process implementation and impact.

The review found that ten of the 17 forces using digivans identified the triage process as a “game-changer.

In particular:

  • Victim experience was improved, particularly among victims who were fearful or hesitant;
  • Victims appreciated having a more flexible, prompt, and less invasive means of gathering evidence during difficult circumstances;
  • Officers’ welfare had been enhanced, as the digivans offered a safe place for them to carry out their work and extract sensitive data in a secure environment; and
  • The ability to access evidence at the scene has expedited justice delivery significantly.

“Digivans, as with all changes introduced into policing, need effective implementation and ongoing management for benefits to be realised,” said Tony Blaker, senior responsible owner at PDS.

“Close collaboration between criminal justice and investigative leads will optimise digivan efficiency, expediting the retrieval of appropriate digital evidence and building victims’ confidence in the criminal justice system. With an increasing number of forces interested in digivans, we will continue to support them to make best use out of this innovative approach to digital forensics.”

Digivans now form part of the Rape Review Response Project (RRRP) in the PDS Digital Forensics Programme, having transitioned from the Home Office Transforming Forensics Programme in October 2022.

The RRRP aims to enhance the police response, facilitate the capture of evidence at the scene, and better support victims of rape and serious sexual offences.

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