Staffordshire Forensic Partnership Annual Report 2019-20

By Martyn Hordern,

At the July 2020 Staffordshire Forensic Partnership Programme Board meeting, a review detailing the partnerships activities for the period of May 2019 to April 2020 was presented by the Partnership Coordinator.

What follows is an abridged version of that review.

The start of the year saw the students 6 week placements based at Staffordshire Police Headquarters and The Smithfield Hanley.  

The students presented their findings in July 2019 and all who were present can testify that the standard of research and quality of presentation was very high. Work continues on developing two of the projects. FITS LED (now purchased by the force) continue to have increasing ways of supporting forensic investigators and we have a student hoping to validate their use in the spring of next year and the SOMU guide is in its infancy as an ‘app’ for staff to use. The app is being developed by a final year computing student and I am grateful for the support of Rob Shaw in getting to the stage we are at.  

YouTube videos of interviews of some of the students from presentation day provide a reference source for potential students either coming to the university to study or considering a placement

The two students interviewed are great ambassadors for the partnership.

The two students interviewed are great ambassadors for the partnership.

Just before these placements the partnership through academics at the university assisted the national Transforming Forensics team with some impact work around ISO 17025 accreditation for digital forensics units across the country. This was used to inform future activities.

We are tantalisingly close 

One of the main objectives for me on commencing my role as Staffordshire Forensic Partnership Coordinator was to secure agreement of all parties to the draft collaboration agreement that I inherited. We are tantalisingly close  at this time.

In recent months the partnership has developed an efficient and effective vetting and induction process for placement students which has been shared with the forces Evidence Based Practise Board and will hopefully support other partnerships in the force. 

We have agreed processes to manage and monitor finances, a business development plan and a communications strategy all of which have required drafting, consultation and agreement. 

The year also saw a review of the Work Streams that had been in place for some time, and after deliberation by the board a new three work stream system was adopted which will hopefully provide some resilience to the partnership. 

There is a desire to have 12 months placement or interns and a consequence of which has seen myself networking with a number of forces across the country to ascertain how they manage interns. As a result there is now a draft policy document for the partnership which requires wider research and consultation.

Awarded the best article in the CSI Eye publication for 2018.  

It is always pleasing to monitor the development of former placement students, be they Crime Scene Investigator’s (CSI), a University lecturer or coming into force as a digital investigator for the defence. It is equally pleasing to see former students acknowledged for their efforts and in October 2019 Nadine Jones was awarded the best article in the CSI Eye publication for 2018. 

Over the year the partnership has gained a greater prominence within the force and outside through the coordinator sitting on the Evidence Based Practise and Innovation Board (EBPI). Nadine Jones and Rachel Bolton-King have both presented to the board on behalf of the partnership. A good number of the more recent student placement projects are now hosted on the EBPI database of projects, indeed the partnership accounts for over half of those listed.

In recent months academics and work stream leads at University have been given access to a number of placement projects as well as a ‘catalogue’ of those that have been done to date. 

‘Visiting Professor’ role

Following his appointment as Professor, Graham Williams suggested to the board that he devote what amounts to half a day a week to the partnership in a ‘visiting Professor’ role. The pandemic put paid to his visits to the force but already he has started to generate ideas for projects and funding as well as ensuring teaching at the university is in tune with current policing methods., We are all optimistic about what this role can provide as the partnership moves forward. 

As we entered the New Year, two Masters students elected to undertake projects with the force including one working on the national Collision Investigation validation of pedestrian throw. Additionally, we supported two final year students with their projects and the spring saw 11 students from the Department of Computing spending a day within Digital Forensics at force headquarters.  

January 2020 saw the agreement of a communications strategy that underpins the good work done to date to publicise the partnership. Over the year the partnership’s Twitter feed has doubled in followers and has made over 100,000 impressions. 

The last few months have seen police staff attending lectures at the university through the partnership as part of their Continued Professional Development (CPD) and once we are back to normal it is hoped these will become a firm fixture. Similar work is being finalised to give police single point of contact staff access to the university’s online library and a wide selection of academic material.

Following the Work Stream review, all three reformed Work Streams have met once and good progress is being made with projects being suggested and developed. In fact, COVID 19 came at a time when some real traction was being made on several fronts.  

Aspirations going forward are to cement Collision Investigation into the streams and also develop further a fledgling partnership started by Claire Gwinnett with the Rural and Wild Life Crime team at Staffordshire Police. 

With funding in place, I am excited at a Fitbit project being developed by Dean Northfield and staff from Digital Forensics Unit (DFU) as well as a proposal to look at drones which would see training given to University staff and a candidate from DFU.

March 2020 saw the partnership supporting a Knowledge Transfer Partnership bid headed by Professor John Cassella to develop first responder training in crime scene management at major incidents utilising virtual reality and machine learning technology.

Over the year contacts have been made with the University of Central Lancashire, University of Portsmouth, Forensic Capability Network, NABIS and Dorset Police Digital Forensics as well as a number of commercial suppliers to the world of forensics. Going forward it is hoped that these contacts will continue to be of great use to the partnership. 

Financially the partnership spends little over and above the wages of the coordinator.  

The COVID 19 pandemic has paused our progress to some degree, the 2020 six week placements were cancelled after careful consideration (apart from one) 

Looking forward it is hoped that we can have 12 month placements in place within the next 12 months, that the Collaboration Agreement is signed off, that the visiting Professor / Industry Fellow role grows and that the reach of the partnership continues to expand.

Recognised expertise in ballistics

The Fitbit and Drone projects offers great potential and opportunities, as does the NABIS six week project which draws on Rachel Bolton-Kings recognised expertise in ballistics. I am keen that once we do get to some semblance of normal that we seek placement students at an early stage and kick start the work streams.

I am grateful to everyone involved in the partnership for their support and work over the last twelve months, especially Stuart Bell and David Flatman-Fairs who continue to be on hand to assist, advise and approve. 

Martyn Hordern 

Staffordshire Forensic Partnership Coordinator