UK police forces struggling with lack of digital skills

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary report sheds light on the digital shortfalls of UK policing.

According to a new report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), police forces across the UK are being hindered by complex IT systems and a lack of digital skills.

The report - which analyses the use of resources in police forces - found that, despite digital skills playing an ever-more central role in police work, policing is falling short when it comes to adopting new technologies.

 A skills gap is also becoming an issue. “Digital skills remain a significant gap,” the report says. "Disappointingly, very few forces are developing digital skills in their workforce, and none are taking full advantage of the skills that police staff, PCSOs and special constables and volunteers can bring to forces. Some are using the digital skills of existing volunteers, but none are recruiting volunteers specifically to access these skills.”

Just two of the 43 police forces in England and Wales (Durham and the West Midlands) were rated as "outstanding" with regards to ensuring staff have the right skills. 33 achieved the "expected standard" of a "good" rating and eight were deemed to "require improvement" - Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, City of London, Devon and Cornwall, Dyfed Powys, Humberside, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire. 

Police forces are also apparently at risk of becoming "overwhelmed" with digital evidence, racking up "unacceptable delays" in tasks such as forensic investigations and extracting data from mobile phones.

"We are not saying that they will not have the capability anywhere in the force to extract that information," said Mike Cunningham, the man who led the review."What we are saying is that they are being overwhelmed. There is evidence that there is far too much of this evidence coming in for forces to meet that demand."

Paul Slater, Executive Director of EMEA at Nuix commented: “I wouldn’t be surprised if many police chiefs scoff at the HMIC report’s push for forces need to deal with their digital skills gap. Up until recently budgets were thin, which wasn’t conducive to enabling the cultural change in day to day policing that is necessary to combat the increasingly digital crimes of today. But with better than expected funding at the end of 2015, it’s now imperative that digital forensic methodologies become part of day to day policing, as much a standard part of scene investigation as fingerprints and DNA.

“To do this, police forces need to think about working more efficiently with the resources they already have. There are digital forensics workflows that as a priority need to be instilled as part of police culture.

"For example, analysing all available evidence sources in a single application, using the content and context of evidence sources to triage them, and applying intelligence, collaboration, and analytics to find the hidden connections between evidence sources and cases.”

Image Credit: Yukiko Matsuoka / Flickr