How Digital Technology is Transforming Policing in the Future
Written by Mark Gambill   

ADVANCEMENTS IN DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES have changed our lives forever. Today we can access practically any digital services we want—e-mails, text messages, photos, videos, apps, and more—with just a few keystrokes, almost anywhere, anytime.

This article appeared in the January-February 2021 issue of Evidence Technology Magazine.
You can view that full issue here.


The resulting data paints a vivid portrait of who we are, showing where we’ve been, who we’ve communicated with (and by what means), and what our preferences are. To consumers, cellphones and computers have become an indispensable way to make our lives easier. To those tasked with solving crimes, digital intelligence (DI)—the data collected and preserved from digital sources and the process by which agencies access, manage, and obtain insights from data to more efficiently run investigations—has become similarly indispensable.

Today, DI is a key driver in connecting suspects to crimes. Used lawfully, DI can expedite investigations to solve more crimes, faster, while preserving privacy. As devices continue to evolve and storage capacity increases, however, evidence gleaned from digital devices is burying investigative teams in data. This slows investigations and causes huge backlogs.

Law enforcement must meet the data-deluge challenges of today and prepare for a future in which digital evidence will play an even larger role in investigations and courtrooms. To achieve this goal, many agencies are transforming the way they collect, preserve, and manage data by adopting DI platforms that can protect the digital chain of custody. These platforms also provide a robust solution to the data-deluge dilemma, while providing the means to share data across teams, departments, and agencies.

Looking ahead, the investigative workflows adopted today are destined to become more digital as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies are more widely embraced. Further, the cloud infrastructure that can handle large volumes of data and different types of sources will greatly enhance the efficacy of policing in the future. Harnessing DI to create a safer world, however, is not without its challenges.

Policing 2025: Envisioning a New Framework for Investigations, a whitepaper recently released by Cellebrite and IDC, points to the problems agencies face today in becoming “DI ready,” while providing some innovative solutions that will have a lasting impact on policing in the future.

Advances in cloud infrastructure are helping to eliminate data-storage problems while allowing teams to share information more easily between departments and agencies. Photo: Shutterstock

The Challenging Road to DI Readiness
“Data deluge” is perhaps the biggest challenge agencies face today. Where investigations less than a decade ago might have involved a computer and a cellphone or two, it’s not uncommon for today’s investigations to involve dozens of mobile devices, computers, SIM cards, and other digital devices.

Advancements in digital technologies have also enabled even the simplest cellphones to hold far more data than previous models, with advanced mobile devices holding more than even the most sophisticated hard drives did a decade ago.

Data sources have grown exponentially, as well, with most investigations needing to parse information from multiple origins—including communication service providers, the cloud, smartphones, laptops, biometric devices, wearables, and video and photographic sources.

The days of accessing data through normal digital forensic procedures have all but ended, as more and more devices are coming to market factory-equipped with sophisticated encryption codes that make it extremely difficult to collect and preserve data from those devices.

The result is thousands of devices backlogging labs and flooding law enforcement agencies with mountains of data that must be combed through and analyzed by highly trained personnel in order to render actionable intelligence.

Even though law enforcement is bound by strict rules governing how and what data can be collected during investigations, there is growing distrust among community members who fear their rights to privacy are being undermined. AI is often viewed as invasive technology that raises questions about the ethical use of this technology, which is critical to investigations.

COVID-19 has also thrown a wrench into normal workflows, with investigators being redeployed to fill the ranks of frontline officers who have fallen victim to the virus. Lockdowns have forced agencies to pivot quickly to accommodate staff working remotely. At the same time, cybercrimes have increased dramatically during the pandemic. “Both INTERPOL and the United Nations have cited increases in cybercrime ranging from 30 to 600% during COVID-19, depending on the particular type of cybercrime,” according to the Policing 2025 whitepaper.

Siloed organizations and cultural challenges within agencies that are data adverse— issues often caused by insufficient training—have also had an impact on wider acceptance of DI, as have aging infrastructures that in many cases are not compatible with today’s advanced solutions.

The long list of challenges inherent in agencies transforming the way they conduct investigations to optimize the benefits of digital technology might seem insurmountable. However, technology is also providing answers to these challenges in a variety of innovative ways.

Advanced analytics solutions powered by AI are allowing investigators to connect the dots between valuable bits of evidence that might easily be missed by the human eye, moving investigations forward more quickly. Photo: Cellebrite

Tooling Up for the Future
Previous investigative workflows called for frontline officers to simply gather digital devices at the crime scene and turn them over to their labs for data collection and analysis. New technologies, however, are empowering frontline officers to lawfully conduct minor data collections either at the crime scene or through digital kiosks located in their station houses.

These systems allow basic information to be downloaded quickly to jumpstart investigations. They also cut down on the number of devices that need to be sent to the lab for data collection. The devices and the information collected from them can easily be logged thanks to modern data-tracking solutions, which provide a complete audit of who had access to the device, what data was collected, and where it is stored—thus preserving the chain of custody and eliminating any questions from defense attorneys about the integrity of the data-management process.

Being able to turn devices around quickly also helps the relationship between police and community members who volunteer evidence from their phones. Increasingly, those who allow their phones to be taken for data collection no longer have to wait weeks to get their devices back, which encourages cooperation.

DI platforms utilizing sophisticated analytics solutions, powered by AI, are allowing investigators to reduce the time required to gather evidence as mountains of data can be parsed in minutes to provide actionable intelligence—an invaluable aid in crimes against children or abduction cases where every minute counts.

Analytic solutions, which can be customized to seek out certain keywords, images, or types of data, are also uncovering information that might have easily been missed by the human eye, empowering investigators to connect disparate bits of evidence far more quickly. Examiners are also spared from reviewing disturbing content and data, which can prevent damaging long-term effects on personnel.

Finally, latest-generation analytics solutions can provide agency managers with a complete visualization of investigations in real time, allowing them to assess and redeploy resources to keep investigations moving forward.

All of these technological advances are positively impacting workflows and helping law enforcement solve more cases, thereby keeping communities safe. Their impact on the future of policing will continue to grow. Regaining public trust, however, must be factored into their deployment to make the future of policing more productive. Here’s what policing 2025 may look like.

Policing 2025: The Path Ahead
It’s inevitable that policing will become even more intelligence-driven, resulting in key transformations in both how investigations are conducted and the ways in which police work with the communities they serve to foster community trust.

As the Policing 2025 paper suggests, solutions and workflows employed by law enforcement in the future will need to be:

  • Algorithmically fair, using unbiased data
  • Explainable to many stakeholders
  • Safe, secure, and private, with a human in the loop
  • Traceable in terms of the provenance of training data sets and metadata
  • Transparent and auditable in its reporting of actions and communication of results

Agencies will be able to deploy platforms that empower them to synthesize information and provide insights at scale—adding value, not volume. The new digital landscape will be defined by a complete transformation that will align technology with people, culture, process, and workflow.

New technologies such as AI, ML, bots, wearables, and drones will be seamlessly integrated into systems and workflows, allowing agencies to proactively manage their assets while preserving privacy.

Advances in cloud infrastructure and security will help solve data-storage problems, while facilitating a free exchange of information between departments and agencies, expediting investigations. Advanced systems will enable agencies to actually track the progress of investigations over time.

Getting There
To achieve such a comprehensive transformation, agencies must begin taking the steps now that will make them DI ready in 2025. Evaluating the overall operation at both the platform and the personnel levels is critical, as is establishing a policy of transparency with the community.

Diving deep on infrastructure: Agency managers need to make an in-depth appraisal of the resources they have on hand. What does their existing platform look like? What are the deficiencies or gaps in their agencies’ digital maturity? How easily might new technologies be integrated into existing infrastructure—that’s already bought and paid for—in order to increase efficiency and streamline workflows?

Evaluating staff: The “people” part of the equation deserves equal attention. What is the existing culture like regarding the use of DI? Is it siloed or collaborative? If it is the former, what kinds of training may be required to allow existing personnel to maximize the effectiveness of digital solutions and create an environment where innovation is embraced, not feared? If it is the latter, how can technology take the great job investigative teams are already doing to the next level?

Sending the right message: Finally, what is the outbound message that must be conveyed to the community in order to clearly demonstrate there has been a cultural shift to make investigations transparent going forward? How can law enforcement regain trust by showing community members the good work they do every day? What is the best way to deliver that message? How can law enforcement explain that the carefully controlled and lawful use of technology is crucial to their mission in order to safeguard community members—while also protecting their privacy? Ultimately, how can they form a partnership of trust so that community members feel empowered and unafraid to partner with the police to better protect their families and community?

Answering these questions takes thoughtful introspection and action, but agencies should also understand that they are not alone. Technology companies in the law-enforcement space are experts in helping organizations evaluate their current situation from every angle in order to provide the right digital solutions and training that can leverage existing infrastructure, optimize investment, and begin building toward the future.

The challenges to law enforcement across the digital landscape are destined to become more difficult. Fortunately, new solutions are being developed every day to keep agencies one step ahead. The road to DI readiness, however, begins with agency managers taking that first step to see where they are today—and where they want their agency to be in the future.

Editor’s note: This article features excerpts from Policing 2025: Envisioning a New Framework for Investigations, a white paper recently released by Cellebrite and IDC.

About the Author
Mark Gambill oversees Cellebrite’s global marketing operations, including product marketing, advertising, promotions, analyst and public relations, field marketing, brand management, and corporate events. Mark has more than 20 years of executive marketing experience across a diverse set of technology sectors with concentrations in big data, AI, machine learning, and augmented analytics. Prior to joining Cellebrite, he served as the CMO at MicroStrategy; before that role, he served as the CMO for Vocus, a global provider of marketing automation software. Gambill holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Florida State University and has completed graduate work at INSEAD.

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