Shortcomings with Metropolitan Police information technology are seriously hampering the progress of, in particular, rape and sexual offence cases, according to research by Liberal Democrat mayoral candidate Rob Blackie and his team.
Replies to Freedom of Information (FoI) requests and conversations with Met officers have indicated that processing and assessing often vital evidence, including from mobile phones, can be cumbersome and slow, with email communication through the Met’s secure system taking far longer than it would using conventional everyday networks.
Officers needing to download files from phones may need to take them in person to digital forensics units at one of nine specialist hubs spread across London if the material is too complex or difficult to extract themselves using facilities at local police stations, Blackie says. In addition, at the time of his inquiries in October, only a small number of officers were able make use of a new tool giving them subsequent remote access to the evidence.
The Met also disclosed to the Lib Dem that the “two-way interface” through which the Met and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) share and evaluate digital audio and others images can accommodate only one megabyte data per transmission, although in its FoI reply to Blackie the Met said it was working with the CPS nationally “to have this increased”.
An internal online system for sharing files, similar to We Transfer, could only accommodate video footage up to ten minutes in length, obliging officers to spend time editing down anything longer before it could be sent.
Blackie, who works in the technology industry, said: “If you’re a police officer, you’ve caught a criminal, you’ve got a piece of CCTV footage and you want the CPS to give you a ruling on whether or not that’s enough evidence to prosecute, you can only send them one MB, compared to a standard gmail attachment, which is 25. It’s almost nothing.”
In addition, files don’t always arrive instantly, Blackie says: “It’s entirely possible that after you’ve done all that chopping up, ten minutes later you phone the CPS to talk to them about the case and the material hasn’t arrived. It’s way behind what we would see as normal practice in the private sector.”
Blackie’s inquiries augment findings of the Home Office-funded Operation Soteria project, launched in June 2021 and led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which drew on the expertise of top academics to help police services and the CPS investigate and prosecute rape and sexual offence cases more effectively. Four UK police services, including the Met, have been involving, along with the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.
An ensuing Soteria report, updated last April, found that conveying phones or other digital devices to their respective data forensics units, whose networks are kept separate for security reasons, meant that “all four forces covered considerable geographical areas, which added to the time taken to travel to and from the DFU”. The report also details the different levels of complexity of taking information from devices and the skilled personnel required for that work.
Blackie told On London he has spoken to a number of Met officers who are unhappy about the way newer technology systems are being rolled out by the Met, mentioning a failure to make sure they are as useable as possible by staff.
However, Met Commissioner Mark Rowley last month expressed a hope that new data and technology-based approaches would help his efforts to tackle violence of all kinds against women and girls as part of his wider reform of the service, in line with Baroness Casey’s hard-hitting report on standards in the Met. He said this change would move as “fast as funding allows” and that he and colleagues were “in the middle of a budget conversation with the Home Office and City Hall”.
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