2021 Digital Intelligence Benchmark Report: Despite Lockdown Drop In Crime, Investigations Still Slowed by Digital Evidence
Cellebrite, the global leader in Digital Intelligence (DI) solutions for the public and private sectors, published its annual Digital Intelligence Benchmark Report for 2021, an analysis of responses from 2,000 agency managers, investigators, analysts and forensic examiners working in law enforcement agencies across 117 different countries.
The study into DI – which makes digital data accessible and actionable in legally sanctioned investigations reveals that despite a drop in certain crime types across some of the world’s biggest economies as a result COVID-19 lockdown, agencies are still struggling to keep pace, process and analyze digital evidence quickly and effectively.
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Nearly half the world’s population 3.9 billion people was under some form of lockdown by the first week of April 2020. A United Nations report based on data from 30 countries revealed that reported robbery, theft, and burglary declined significantly because of the pandemic, falling by more than 50% in most countries, with larger decreases where lockdown measures were stricter. In certain countries, homicides also fell by an average of 25% during March/April 2020 in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. However, according to an April 2021 CNN report the US saw a significant rise in violent crime (33%) in major cities in 2020 and it is not letting up in 2021.
Despite this temporary dip in certain crimes, the Digital Intelligence Benchmark Report reveals the amount of overtime worked by examiners in 2020 declined by just 3 per cent compared to 2019 levels. On the other hand, investigators are spending an average of 48 hours a week reviewing photos, recorded videos, and text messages from devices, along with CCTV and security videos, and creating reports. Furthermore, investigators reported a 5 to 7-day average turnaround time to receive data and an initial report from examiners in the lab.
The implications of not speeding up the digital investigation process for solving crimes and saving lives are significant because, according to the study, digital evidence plays a role in almost two thirds (63%) of all investigations. Of those investigations, smartphones were an evidence source in 96%, followed by Windows computers (52%), feature phones (45%), tablets (39%) and even emerging technologies such as wearables (8%) and cryptocurrencies (8%).
Mark Gambill, EVP at Cellebrite comments: “We could see there was no improvement against many KPIs our industry tracks despite the dips in crime we’ve seen throughout 2020. Law enforcement’s ability to lawfully access locked devices continues to slow-down investigations. And, we were not at all surprised to see the importance of digital evidence to solving crimes clearly reflected in the data, as well as new technologies such as crypto and wearables playing a role in advancing investigations. Agency managers, investigators, analysts and forensic examiners didn’t have any respite last year and the situation is about to worsen as crime rates, particularly violent crime, are rising quickly across major metropolitan areas across the world.”
The report also reveals that managers within law enforcement agencies recognize that there are still major inefficiencies in the investigation ecosystem. 55% of agency managers said they have a poor or no digital transformation strategy and are likely to prioritize digital transformation.
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The report highlights five major development areas that are inhibiting law enforcement agencies from fully leveraging their digital evidence as part of their investigative workflow:
- Staffing shortages: Despite recruitment and retention challenges that law enforcement agencies are grappling with, the Digital Intelligence Benchmark Report revealed just 7% of agencies hired or plan to hire additional examiners to help process digital evidence. This resource crunch is placing an additional burden onto agencies that are at or above their existing investigative capacity.
- Skills shortage: Most law enforcement agencies are still lacking sufficient IT expertise to implement and operationalize new digital technologies to speed up the investigative workflow of collecting, analyzing, managing, and storing digital evidence. Investigators also lack the additional training needed to effectively use tools such as analytics.
- Tools & technologies: 97% of investigators feel key evidence is missing or lost when reviewing digital data and 47% of examiners feel they miss significant amounts of data from device examinations. They agreed that with so much time and energy spent on reviewing digital data, more effective tools are needed to accelerate time to evidence.
- Inter- and intra-agency silos: Digital evidence from multiple devices often needs to be compared, contrasted, and investigated alongside other data sources such as cloud, CDRs, data from RMS and internal police databases. However, because of silos between different departments and IT systems, and evidence storage on removable media rather than a centralized evidence management system, it takes longer than it should to surface insights and leads. The report stated that 1 in 3 agency managers are not satisfied with the collaboration capabilities within their agency and with agency partners.
- DI Strategy and foresight: 55% of agency managers said they have a poor or no digital transformation strategy and are likely to prioritize digital transformation. A staggering third (34%) of agency managers reported that they were dissatisfied with their agency’s strategy for collecting, preserving, managing, and safeguarding digital evidence and 35% said they were dissatisfied with their agency’s strategy for processing and analyzing digital evidence.
The Digital Intelligence Benchmark Report also makes a series of recommendations for how agencies can get back on the front foot:
- Assess the gaps and outline a solid DI strategy to ensure your path to digital policing is charted. Along the way you will surely need to course-correct, but setting the direction is paramount.
- Recruit tech-minded talent that are so integral to the future of policing by changing traditional approaches to hiring and creating career pathways that are attractive for skilled technology workers.
- Invest in new technologies and training that enable investigators to efficiently collect and review evidence from any device or source and accelerate the analysis of that evidence to solve crimes quicker.
- Break down information silos within the agency, and between agencies, by building a culture of collaboration through first-class investigative workflow for the digital age – operations, systems, personnel, and processes.
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