Reading news stories and watching footage from the Million Mask March against the Government’s austerity measures, which took place in London on Thursday 5 November, reminded me of the terrible riot scenes in the capital back in 2011 when another peaceful protest descended in to chaos, writes Jamie Wilson.
Policing such a large-scale event that’s moving through a city creates a huge strain on the police (in this instance officers from the Metropolitan Police Service) in terms of managing both the logistics and also resources.
According to reports, at least 50 arrests were made on the day of the march, mainly for public order offences, but this number is likely to rise as the post-incident investigation takes place.
The investigation process which followed the riots of 2011 was vast, involving 500 officers reviewing more than 200,000 hours of CCTV footage. While the events of last Thursday are not comparable in scale, this does illustrate the sheer scale of the task facing police forces in the wake of such an incident.
As the story unfolded on the news , it struck me how much video footage is now being captured on mobile devices, whether by the protesters themselves, passers-by or by police officers’ body worn video and, of course, CCTV cameras. What’s more, this new type of footage has the potential to be even more valuable in securing successful prosecutions than CCTV as it’s often the case that fixed cameras are not ideally positioned to identify an individual. Of course, it must be said that on this occasion many protesters were wearing Guido Fawkes masks.
Then there’s Twitter and other social media channels, online communities, media and blogs through which protests such as this one are not only organised but reported upon, with updates, photos and videos being shared. Type the hashtag #MillionMaskMarch and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
To my mind, there are four major challenges for police forces when it comes to using digital evidence. Each also represents a huge opportunity to improve how post-incident investigations are managed.
(1) Making it easy for members of the public to share digital evidence
When police forces are making a public request for evidence relating to an event they need to make it known how citizens can share potentially relevant photos and images.
For example, calling a specific telephone number and being given an e-mail address or secure location to which they can then send or upload the files. A public portal, if you will.
(2) Knowing what CCTV footage is available and gaining easy access to that footage
In the past, I’ve talked about ‘Constable Couriers’ who spend too much time travelling to and from locations in order to obtain CCTV footage. With most modern CCTV systems now recording footage digitally, it’s easy for the owner to extract footage (based on a specified date and time) and send this to the police service either electronically or on disk. In fact, many forces have been doing this for some time.
Taking things one step further, some forces are also looking at how they might proactively engage with organisations that have CCTV cameras in public places to build a map of where they can have ’eyes’ if a crime takes place in the vicinity.
Going further still, the rise in popularity of IP cameras – ie cameras connected to the Internet – means that it could be possible for forces to be granted access to view these cameras (in real-time or post incident) with the consent of the owner.
(3) Managing digital evidence once it has been obtained
In the past, there would be a physical case file and evidence would be logged and securely stored. The same is true of the digital world. The investigating team can have access to a digital case file that has all of the information relating to the case at their fingertips, whether it’s witness statements (written or conducted over Skype), records of 999 calls (with the opportunity to playback), relevant CCTV and body-worn camera footage, photos and videos – all automatically tagged with the case number as they’re submitted.
(4) Correlating evidence: even knowing what you don’t know
With an influx of digital evidence it’s inevitable that there will be a lot of duplication of content. However, so as not to repeat the resource drain that followed the events in 2011, there are some very clever solutions.
If you have used a website such as Amazon you will know that if you’ve looked at one product it will recommend others in which you might also be interested. This innovative tool is also available to police forces to help them during their investigations.
For example, a police officer may be viewing a piece of CCTV footage from Trafalgar Square and they can be automatically presented with other files pertaining to that exact time and location. Now, as well as a wide angle view of how an incident unfolds, the officer may also be able to find additional detail that will lead to the identification of a suspect. This has the potential to speed up the investigations process exponentially and provide investigating teams with a far richer pool of information to call upon.
Many UK police forces have begun – or are about to embark – on this path, motivated in part by the Home Office’s mandate for digital evidence compliance which comes into effect at the end of April 2016, as well as the need to look at new ways for delivering smarter, results-driven policing in the face of tough public sector budget constraints.
Jamie Wilson is Public Safety Marketing Manager (EMEA) at NICE Systems