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Crime Outcomes Report: The Rise of Digital Forensic Investigations

Crime Outcomes Report

The Home Office have published their annual official crime statistics for England and Wales, with a particular focus on the role of Digital Forensics against the rise in fraud and Computer Misuse Act (CMA) offences, as well as other crimes.

The Crime Outcomes Report details specific statistics for crimes reported in England and Wales between 1st April 2021 and 31st March 2022, covering all territorial police forces.

As explained in the report, trends in recorded crime levels by the police over the last two years have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and government restrictions on social contact, with most of the restrictions having been lifted by the end of March 2022. Levels of some crime types, such as robbery, theft and sexual offences fell during the pandemic year ending March 2021.

What is noteworthy from a digital forensics perspective is that levels of other types of crime, specifically fraud and Computer Misuse Act (CMA) offences increased during the pandemic. These offences have been presented in the report separately since 2020, to provide more detail on the outcomes of these related crime types, which differ in their nature and investigation.

In contrast, levels of police recorded theft and robbery offences remain below pre-pandemic levels, despite increases in the previous year (up 15% and 11% respectively). Overall, 5.3 million offences (excluding fraud and computer misuse offences) were recorded by the police in the year ending March 2022, similar to levels recorded in both the year ending March 2019 and the year ending March 2020.


Investigative outcomes assigned to fraud and Computer Misuse Act (CMA) offences

Experimental Statistics based on data for fraud and computer misuse offences disseminated to the police and outcomes recorded by the police are collated by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB).

  • The number of Computer Misuse Act (CMA) offences reported decreased by 5%, from around 30,000 in the year ending March 2021 to around 29,000 in the year ending March 2022; despite the fall, levels of recorded CMA offences remain 10% higher than those seen pre-pandemic, in the year ending March 2020 (when around 26,000 CMA offences were recorded).
  • The number of fraud offences reported increased by 17% between the year ending March 2021 and the year ending March 2022, from around 800,000 offences to around 940,000 offences; this was largely driven by an increase in reports from UK Finance, which more than trebled with a 151% increase from around 100,000 offences to around 250,000 offences.
  • This continues the increasing trend in numbers of recorded fraud offences in recent years, and the level of recorded fraud is 25% higher than that seen pre-pandemic in the year ending March 2020 (around 750,000 offences).
  • The total number of fraud offences assigned an investigative outcome decreased from around 53,000 in the year ending March 2021 to around 50,000 (down 7%) in the year ending March 2022. The total number of CMA offences assigned an outcome decreased from 7,900 to around 7,600 (down by 5%), which would indicate that investigations are taking longer.
  • The number of fraud and computer misuse offences disseminated to forces increased in the year ending March 2022 compared with the previous year. This represented a 30% increase for computer misuse offences, compared with the pre-pandemic year ending March 2020.

With these recorded trends in fraud and computer misuse offences, the question must be asked, how is this affecting the police digital forensic crime units who already have an over-stretched workload and a backlog of devices that require digital imaging?

How do these trends impact police workload?

There are three identifiable trends from the Crimes Outcomes Report that are impacting Police workload:

  1. The ease of restrictions related to the pandemic contributed to the rise in crime. Some offences such as criminal damage and arson soared to the same level of 2020.
  2. Improved recording practices and greater willingness of some victims to report crimes to the police resulted in increased caseload and case mix.
  3. The investigative demands of the Police are under strain due to the increased volume of digital evidence across a wide spectrum of offences.

Lawrence Perret-Hall, Commercial Director at CYFOR, commented

‘Mountains of digital evidence is creating a backlog for the Police. Digital forensics experts can help the Force analyse this evidence and reduce the time it takes to complete investigations and assist the Police in achieving justice for victims of crime.’

Timeliness of investigations changes greatly depending on the offence, but the report noted in particular that the median number of days to assign a charge or summons outcome for drug offences rose by 21% from 52 to 63 days. A backlog of forensic examinations, including analysis of mobile phones and other devices, is said to have contributed to this increase.

‘More devices than ever before can now be used for criminal purposes. The new digital age is here to stay, and the justice system needs to wake up and adapt to new volumes of digital evidence.’ says Lawrence Perret-Hall.

With crime rates rising and the time taken to assign a charge/summons outcome increasing since 2016, experienced, security-cleared digital forensic investigators can provide key support across the entire justice system, including criminal defence solicitors:

  • Technicians can be on site quickly and at short notice.
  • External providers can scale their workload and have the capacity to take on multiple jobs at one time.
  • Deploying extra resources improves the quality and accuracy of investigations, helping cases get trial ready.

You can view the complete fraud and Computer Misuse Act (CMA) offences section in Crime Outcomes Report here.

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