New forensic ‘digivan’ to help police investigate rape
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A new digital forensic vehicle known as a ‘digivan’ is being used by Northamptonshire Police to help gather evidence, and improve the policing experience for victims of rape and serious sexual assault. Officers and forensic investigators will no longer have to take away and retain a rape victim’s mobile phone for forensic analysis, which means the victim won’t lose this important lifeline after such a traumatic event.
The digivan is a fully mobile, unmarked digital forensic unit which provides officers and forensic staff with faster and easier access to tools and technology to allow them to examine digital devices at any location and to return them immediately after they have been processed.
Chief Constable Nick Adderley said: “I am really pleased that we have this state-of-the-art digivan. It will increase the speed with which we can gather and analyse evidence and provide a much better service for victims of rape and serious sexual assault.
“We can now travel to the victim and then do a rapid mobile examination on site, without having to take their phone away for analysis. This means minimal disruption to the victim and offers a much more sensitive approach.
“Being without your phone or digital device when you’re feeling vulnerable is hugely impactive. Not having your phone in normal circumstances can be difficult enough but at a time of trauma it’s even more distressing.”
The digivan is a mobile digital forensic lab containing equipment and software that an investigating team needs to perform phone extractions and conduct digital examinations at the scene of alleged sexual crimes.
Officers and forensic staff can examine mobile phones and other digital devices at a variety of crime scenes, and give investigators faster access to the right digital evidence. They can perform selective or full physical data extraction, as it allows victims and witnesses to share only the data that’s relevant to the case, while leaving all other information private.
Detective Inspector Gary Collins of the Digital Forensic Unit said: “We are really happy to have this new technology available to us. It means we can take technology to where-ever we need it.
“We can take the digivan to a variety of locations and different crime scenes, so we’ll see improvements in examinations and productivity as we can triage at the scene. This will be particularly helpful to our Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Team (RASSO), our Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT) and in the Management of Sexual or Violent offenders (MOSOVO).
“This vehicle could also help us considerably reduce investigation time. If for example we are searching a suspect’s home, and several people live in the household there are likely to be multiple devices – tablets, phones, laptops, USB sticks – these could easily run into double figures – and if we took them all away from the scene it could potentially mean months of investigation.
“We could be spending time examining devices that contain no evidence at all, whereas having the digivan, with an on-site triage kit, means we can do an initial digital examination there and then at the scene, and rapidly determine which devices need further analysis and which are superfluous and can be returned to owners – this more targeted approach means a much quicker turnaround of evidence.”
The digivan has been built to bespoke specifications and equipped with state-of-the-art tools. It was supplied to the Force as part of the Government’s £5M Transforming Forensics Programme, which is designed to improve how policing handles rape and serious sexual assault, and lead to improvements in victim experience, scene examination and productivity.
Stephen Mold, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner said: “I’ve been concerned about the timeliness of inspections of digital devices, especially where this relates to victims, so I’m really pleased that government funding is providing Northamptonshire Police with new forensic tool, it will be a fantastic asset for investigators and gives them a fantastic new capability.
“I want victims to get the best possible service, leading to the best possible outcome, and the digivan can only enhance the way the Force supports people when they are at their most vulnerable. I would like to see the digivan as part of an ongoing improvement to digital investigation services, and part of a holistic package of measures that keep women safe and create a better experience and outcome for victims in Northamptonshire.”
Northamptonshire Police urges anyone who has been the victim of rape or sexual assault to report it by contacting them online or by calling 101. In an emergency always call 999. If you’re not ready to talk to the police just yet, that’s OK. Through the link below you can find a range of places to get support, advice and medical help.