Like most colleagues across the Country, CSIs in South West Forensics have been making the most of modern technology over the last year.
There are many agile working models that are compatible with the role of CSI, but access to the right technology has previously been the blocker. The crisis that is COVID has brought about some immediate and often overnight changes, many of these changes have helped CSIs in South West Forensics move closer to the agile working model they’ve longed for.
CSIs in Dorset are helping lead a pilot into the use of GoodSam for major crime scene walkthroughs and triaging attendance requests at scenes out of hours. Recently CSI Team Leader Jim McMenamin conducted a walkthrough of a major crime scene relaying his assessment, thoughts and considerations to the Duty Regional Forensic Coordinator. The video was sent seamlessly to the SIO at home and then also shared over Microsoft Teams on the MCIT Briefing the following morning. The ability to easily and quickly capture, record and share video is something that CSIs have needed for a number of years. Gone are the days of recording a scene video on a tape and sealing it in an evidence bag for it to never be seen again. CSIs are an active part of a working group to help understand and inform better use of GoodSam for both Devon & Cornwall and Dorset Police over the next 10 months or so.
On Christmas Day, GoodSam was used to bring together CSM Sarah Crofts at a scene in Christchurch, CSI Team Leader Helen Higginson working remotely in Dorchester, Regional Forensic Coordinator Lynzi Lefort working remotely in Plymouth and on call Pathologist Dr Cook in Yeovil. Hundreds of miles between them all, but able to come together, live, and interrogate a scene to aid decision making, without delay.
Microsoft Teams has been introduced into each of the four South West Forensic Forces through 2020 and although many have had to pick it up as they go, it's proved to be invaluable. It is now possible for each and every member of South West Forensics to come together, virtually and see and speak to each other. This was only achievable either in person or by telephone conference just 10 months ago.
The challenge hasn't only been to encourage the use of this new technology within South West Forensics, but has required a cultural change across the Forces in which we operate. Access to video calling, through Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp has been available for years, but what COVID has encouraged is a rapid change in Policing culture. It would have been an anomaly twelve months ago for a Crime Scene Coordinator to call into an MCIT briefing remotely.
Post mortem briefing and debriefing now takes place over Microsoft Teams, initially out of necessity to reduce the number of people in attendance at the mortuary, but the wider benefits are easily recognised. Members of CSI have been key in helping embed the use of this technology into traditional Policing and into Major Crime Investigation Teams.
Recently, a suspicious death investigation was being conducted with the SIO being based in an Office at Poole, CSI Team Leader Paul Cooper was with the Pathologist at the mortuary, CSM Mike Wright at a scene in Bournemouth and Crime Scene Coordinator Ryan Howell working remotely from Exeter. Pre-Covid, all of these people would have had to come together in one location at the same time. Microsoft Teams meant that everyone became part of the briefing and remained in the locations they were based. The clear benefit here is the obvious removal of travelling, which not only saves time and money, but actually means that time can be effectively used concentrating on other aspects of the investigation.
Every CSI across the South West Forensic Forces now has a personal issue laptop, something that was merely a dream only six months ago.
Microsoft Teams is being utilised daily on desktop, laptops and mobile phones right across the Region. At the start of every shift, CSI Team Leaders hold a shift briefing, where the day's incidents are reviewed and allocated and all those CSIs on duty come together. Over the last few months this has evolved from a necessity to a welcome part of daily routine. It allows CSI Team Leaders to check in with CSIs, cascade important messages, allows for informal group discussions, diffusion of incidents and allows for some of the comradeship that being in an office together brought about. CSI Team Leader Paul Cooper said:
"This utilisation of modern technology now makes it possible for me to see more of my team, more often than before. It's fantastic"
Every single CSI across all four Forces has a personal issue smart phone. CSIs in Dorset have recently worked with the mobile phone team to test and evaluate the Samsung Xcover Pro, a smart phone 'built for the field' and as a result, the Force have invested in a new device for each of the 23 team members across Dorset. Regional Forensic Coordinator Ryan Howell said:
"CSIs are normally last in the queue, or in some cases, in the wrong queue in the wrong shop. This time, our CSIs are right at the front, helping lead the way and I'm incredibly grateful to the Force and the mobile phone team in investing time to ensure CSIs have access to the right technology. Ultimately it leads to an enhanced service to investigations and victims of crime."
It's an obvious observation that the strides that have been made over the last few months will help direct how we work in the future, post-covid, and there are a number of ways of working that could and should remain. In January 2020, SWF staff would have spent hours driving between bases and Forces for the purpose of meetings and face to face interactions, this has significantly reduced and almost all meeting are and can continue to be virtual. Regional Forensic Coordinator Ryan Howell will represent CSI in a newly formed working group to explore 'New Ways of Working' and help shape the future for South West Forensic staff. The future is today.
RFC Ryan Howell would love to hear from colleagues across the Country who have questions or approaches to share - @CSIDorset or firstname.lastname@example.org