“I always remember that first fingerprint identification, when I identified somebody on a bomb years and years ago; I was the first one to know whose fingers had been on that, such a buzz, I loved that.”
Richard Helson started his career in the Metropolitan Police as a fingerprint expert in 1993. He went on to work as a Crime Scene Manager in two of London’s busiest boroughs, Hackney and Brixton. It was a tough job; you’re dealing with humanity’s worst impulses, something that is driven home when you listen to Richard talk about his time in the Met: “The learning curve is so steep. You see everything in a short period of time; my first murder was a headless woman.”
“I can still see pretty much every body I have dealt with.”
Yet, he points out: “You are there to do a job so you put your mind into that.”
In his time working as a fingerprinting specialist and crime scene manager he watched as the systems improved and fingerprinting turned digital.
Initially however, once a fingerprint scan was taken it was then sent to a central database where a specialist was tasked with manually undergoing the process of trying to find a match for that print.
Richard watched as “that whole process then got automated… as you get scanned instantly that result will then go back to the police officer without any human interaction; that’s basically what we are trying to do with the Chorus Investigator.”
Chorus Intelligence: Investigative Data Visualisation
Richard now works for UK-based Chorus Intelligence as their Customer Relationship Director. Founded in 2011 Chorus Intelligence provides data analytics solutions to law enforcement agencies. Chorus Investigator is a new tool from the company, designed to help law enforcement teams quickly standardise and visualise data pertaining to a criminal case, allowing them to transform spreadsheets, for example.
Some of the most common digital data in criminal cases takes the form of phone records, chat messages and cell tower location pings.
Boyd Mulvey, CEO of Chorus, describes the tool as “providing law enforcement agencies with a cost-effective solution to the tsunami of data that analysts and investigators face in today’s environment.”
He adds: “By far the biggest problem for forces is making sense of this data in a timely and efficient way. This is incredibly pertinent when you consider missing people. Having the ability to analyse call data in a matter of seconds, really could make the difference between finding that person and not.”
The problem with the Data
One of the problems Chorus Intelligence sees in how data is handled in criminal investigations is, as Richard Helson puts, that:“Ninety-five percent of data that police forces have, gets looked at by a police officer who doesn’t have any training, doesn’t know what they are looking at, generally gets given that data on a disk that is put in a drawer and it never gets looked at.”
Yet every piece of data has a unique identifier in it, this can take the form of an in-patient number, a car registration number or just mobile phones connected to the case.
Chorus Investigator lets offices feed spreadsheets into the software and this information is visualised in any easy to read map. This readability isn’t just for the time-constrained officer working the case; juries in court cases also need to be able to understand the evidence put before them and the company sees legal as well as investigative applications.
Using Chorus Investigator officers working on a missing person case can enter the mobile data of the missing person and: “Within thirty seconds can at least see where that person’s been, who they have been communicating with, and is then more informed to make a decision around ‘is this a case? Yes it’s a case. How serious is it? Who is connected?’ and it gives them new lines of enquiry,” Richard notes.
The software essentially lets an officer do the work that normally requires digital forensics specialists.
With the data imported into the software they can use filters such as date, time, locations, and phones. Once the parameters are set within thirty seconds the system does work that normally takes days, to produce a visualised report showing where your suspect visited, who they talked to and who their most popular contacts were.
Chorus Intelligence: Greater Manchester Police Case
The software is already been used by the Greater Manchester Police force who used it in a recent murder case. In this incident, three offenders drove a van to a victim’s house, picked him up and then drove to an industrial estate where they shot him, dumped the body outside his house then drive off. The van got taken to be cleaned in a garage.
Using Chorus investigator Manchester Police charted several data maps gained from phone records and locations. First, the victim’s phone records showed increased call activity between him and the suspects in the days leading up to the crime.
The van was caught on CCTV on the way to the victim’s house and when he got in the van his phone was turned on. The victim’s phone was left in the van after they dumped the body. As they drove back from dumping the body, one of the offenders turned his phone on to call the cleaner; the offender’s phone had now pinged a co-location with the now disposed-of victim, whose phone was in the van.
Using Chorus Investigator police were able to input the call record and cell tower data to receive a visualisation of this data.
They could clearly see the cleaner drive towards the garage and the van, because when he reached it his phone co-located with the victims’.
It took Greater Manchester Police with the help of Chorus Intelligence software only one hour to prepare a map detailing the crime for submission to the Crown Prosecution Service resulting in five convictions based on the detailed evidence.
Richard notes how: “Digital used to have to go-to specialist in the force, like I was a trained fingerprint expert; we are now putting that data in the hands of investigators so that they can self-serve and they don’t have to wait for third party involvement.”