As daily operations of the criminal justice system around the world face evolving challenges due to the current health crisis, the mass disruption is forcing law enforcement to redeploy their resources, impacting their ability to serve their communities on many fronts.  

As a result, law enforcement agencies will require creative and effective solutions to get their jobs done – putting digital intelligence at the forefront in helping agencies do more with less.

To help our customers understand the digital transformation needed in policing, Cellebrite has published our “Annual Digital Intelligence Industry Benchmark Report for 2020.” Insights were collected from 2,000 law enforcement personnel in over 110 countries to compile the report, which benchmarks the industry’s day-to-day challenges for agency management and investigative teams.  

The report revealed seven major trends in digital intelligence, spotlighting where law enforcement agencies have room to drive operational efficiencies and standards for lawfully handling and securing digital data that is defensible in a court of law.

Let’s briefly explore the seven trends that are further explained and detailed in the report you can download here.

  1. Agencies Recognize The Growing Role Of Digital Data But Are Slow To Adapt

For many LE agencies today, digital data is proving to be more informative and crucial when solving investigations than even physical evidence. In Cellebrite’s benchmark report, 64 percent of agency managers confirm that digital investigations play “a very high role” in keeping communities safe.

The report shows that digital data extracted from devices under investigation has grown 82 percent compared to three years ago. The need for expertly trained staff to navigate and leverage vast amounts of data has also risen sharply. Yet, 43 percent of agencies report having either a “poor” or “mediocre” strategy for handling digital intelligence or no strategy at all.

  1. Lack Of Comfort Highlights Need For Faster Extraction In The Field

Even though consent-based digital evidence captured at a crime scene from witnesses and victims often contains valuable insights, the current means of capturing this digital evidence presents challenges to investigative teams. Over 70 percent of officers still ask witnesses and victims to surrender their devices for data extraction to be performed at the station or in a lab.

As investigators are discovering, most people are reluctant to part with their primary communication device for an indefinite period. In order to relieve the stress on this type of data-collection scenario, 67 percent of agency managers believe that mobility technology is “important” or “very important” to the agency’s long-term digital evidence strategy and 72 percent of investigators believe it is “important” to conduct in-the-field extractions of this data.

  1. Agency Managers Are Looking At Modernization Initiatives Such As ‘Digital Hubs’ And ‘Mobile First’ To Help Attract A New Generation Of Digital-Savvy Officers.

Eighty-four percent of agency managers rate mobility technology as being “important” to their long-term digital intelligence strategy.

As the next generation of tech-savvy frontline officers begins to leverage technology at crime scenes, a new level of investigative effectiveness is becoming possible. Most agency managers believe police forces that embrace mobile technology to collect digital evidence in the field will help reduce officer turnover and be significantly better prepared to meet the digital evidence challenges of 2020.

  1. Budget And Overtime Constraints Limit Digital Investigation Efficiency

With the deluge of digital devices being sent to labs, examiners are facing an average backlog of three months for device examinations and an average backlog of 89 devices per station.

In order to address these bottlenecks, examiners are being forced to prioritize their workload and only examine time-sensitive data or data from certain cases. Budget constraints mean working overtime is no longer an option, as seen in the nearly 20-percent decrease in overtime allowances in the last year.

For this reason, the need to prioritize digital intelligence analysis and management has risen to 40 percent this year, in comparison to 25 percent last year. As reported, the biggest challenge labs face continues to be locked devices and encrypted apps as 6 out of 10 devices that reach the lab are locked.

  1. Lab Examiners Are Drowning In Data And Device Overload

Cellebrite research shows the number of data sources is continuing to grow for examiners. On average, each case has 2-4 mobile devices that need to be examined, while 45 percent of cases also involve a computer examination. This means examiners typically conduct 26 mobile-device examinations monthly, which translates to more than 300 annually.

Smartphones continue to top the list as the most frequent evidence sources examiners review, but the variety of digital sources used in investigations is increasing. Sources such as CCTV, wearables, smart-home and IoT devices, drones, cars, and even gaming systems, are being used by criminals more frequently to mask illegal activity.

This is why leveraging technologies that can access the most data sources and using technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to shorten the amount of time it takes to generate actionable insights, are so important.

  1. High Demand For Digital Data Analytics For Investigations

Investigators and examiners are facing severe challenges in managing the exploding abundance of digital data against the backdrop of budget cuts and a shortage of overtime allowances. This has led to an increasingly large backlog and a need to prioritize casework.

Yet despite these glaring challenges, only 25 percent have adopted digital analytics tools. While past mobile-device storage was limited to a less than 16GB, the new generation of devices have storage capacities reaching as high as 1TB (1,000GB).

Despite the backlogs, variety of digital sources, and the amount of digital data that typically need to be reviewed in an investigation, most law enforcement agencies are reviewing this information manually instead of using AI-based analytics solutions.

This means, on average, investigators spend 43 hours per week reviewing and reporting on evidence. This accounts for 96 percent of their average workweek hours, up from 37 hours in the prior year.

  1. Putting A Process Around Storing And Sharing Digital Evidence Is A Key Concern Of Agency Managers

In our benchmark report, 64 percent of agency managers said that governance and management of data are “very important.” This is particularly important due to the large amounts of data that need to be maintained.

If data is mismanaged, it can quickly be misplaced in various storage solutions. A thumb drive can be misplaced. The data may not be stored in the proper place on a server. The data could be stored in a staff member’s individual storage component. A staff member may no longer be employed, and it becomes very difficult to determine that person’s storage solution.

All these issues point to the pressing need for agencies to invoke a solid digital intelligence strategy to balance the digital-data reality and needs with finite resources. Only when such strategy is put in place will law enforcement agencies be positioned to meet today’s tactical challenges while also preparing for tomorrow.

Conclusion

In 2020 and beyond, investigations will need to utilize AI to sort through the mountains of incoming data, to automatically find and filter specific objects in images, to identify keywords in text conversations and to create relationship analyses. Over 70 percent of survey respondents said that these AI-enabled features will be “very important.”

Furthermore, in order to take advantage of digital evidence from a wide variety of sources, investigators will need the ability to unify disparate data and view it easily and logically. In fact, 80 percent of investigators believe data unification is “important,” and 87 percent believe viewing activities visually on a map is “important.”

Get deeper insights on the findings by downloading the report here.

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