Why volunteers can play a vital role in policing
Our full response to media reports about West Midlands Police's use of volunteers in digital forensics.
Michelle Painter, the Assistant Director of Forensic Services, said:
“Volunteers present us with a fantastic opportunity. We have the opportunity to use highly skilled individuals, who are experts outside of policing, but with the necessary experience and expertise to help our investigations. Equally, the volunteers themselves are developing their experience and using their skills to help others and bring more people to justice.
“We know from experience that Special Constables bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to our work in neighbourhood policing. This is just taking a different expert experience and skill and putting in into a specialist department.
“The nature of criminality is continually evolving and as such digital evidence is more and more vital in helping investigating officers to secure a criminal conviction and bringing offenders to justice.
“Investigations into crimes increasingly have a digital element to them, this includes interrogating devices such as sat navs, phones, drones and computers.
“All work across Digital Forensics has to meet the requirements of the Forensic Science Regulator and we are accredited to ISO 17025. A fundamental aspect of this accreditation is to evidence the training and competency of all practitioners working any part of our processes.
“As a force we need volunteers with digital expertise outside of policing to support our investigations, to research and develop scientific validation of methods. Volunteers will not complete activity without evidencing their training and competency and peer reviewing their work.
“Volunteers have not replaced staff, there has been no reduction in staffing numbers since their introduction.
“Their welfare is an important consideration and is reflected in the age restriction and the recruitment process. Occasionally, some investigations do have an element of investigating indecent images but that is not the only aspect of the digital forensics service. This is a consideration for our full time staff and the wellbeing signposting available to our employees is also available to our volunteers, including six monthly clinical supervision appointments.
“We appreciate that this line of work is not for everyone which is why we are explicit around the potential exposure to indecent and distressing imagery."