Building on the findings of a British Academy-funded project on the development of digital forensics (DF) in England and Wales, the purpose of this paper is to explore how triage, a process that helps prioritise digital devices for in-depth forensic analysis, is experienced by DF examiners and police officers in four English police forces. It is argued that while as a strategy triage can address the increasing demand in the examination of digital exhibits, careful consideration needs to be paid to the ways in which its set-up, undertaking and outcomes impact on the ability of law enforcement agencies to solve cases.Design/methodology/approachThe methodological approach adopted here builds on the ethnographic turn in criminology. The analysis draws on 120 h of ethnographic observations and 43 semi-structured interviews. Observational data of the working DF environment at each location and a systematic evaluation of internal documents, organisational settings and police priorities helped refine emergent analysis threads, which were analytically compared between sites and against the testimonies of members of different occupational groups to identify similarities and differences between accounts.FindingsThe findings emphasise the challenges in the triage of digital exhibits as they are encountered in everyday practice. The discussion focusses on the tensions between the delivery of timely and accurate investigation results and current gaps in the infrastructural arrangements. It also emphasises the need to provide police officers with a baseline understanding of the role of DF and the importance of clearly defined strategies in the examination of digital devices.Originality/valueThis paper aims to bridge policy and practice through an analysis of the ways in which DF practitioners and police officers in four English constabularies reflect on the uses of triage in DF to address backlogs and investigative demands. Highlighting the importance of digital awareness beyond the technical remit of DF units, it offers new insights into the ways in which police forces seek to improve the evidential trail with limited resources.
Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management – Emerald Publishing
Published: Apr 6, 2020
Keywords: Policing; Digital forensics; Triage; Crime investigation