The Golden Hour: What impact have mobile data devices (MDDs) had on primary investigation in frontline policing?

Research Institution / Organisation

University of Portsmouth

Principal Researcher

Nathaniel Jenkins

Level of Research


Project Start Date

January 2019

Research Context

Research into the impact of technological development is wide-ranging. Avgerou (2010) examines closely the relationship between the rate of international development and subsequent impact on global social issues, and the rate of technological gain. A cursory search of Google produces articles such as that by Cavalcante (2013) analysing the impact of technological innovation on the development of business models. Almost any combination of words together with the word ‘technology’ produces a vast array of studies, opinion pieces and analyses — yet very little exists in relation to policing. The limited body of research which does exist is broadly dated, and focuses on the early introduction of technologies such as the Mobile Data Terminal (MDT) in the United States of America. There is a clear gap in current research of the role that technological development has to play in the development of police investigation.

Tilley, Robinson & Burrows (2007, p.232) explore the idea that, particularly in the case of volume crime, there is little time available to investigate each offence leading to a vicious cycle of development of crime as detection rates fall making these offences more attractive to would-be offenders. They later go on to explore the idea of ‘triage’ of crimes, something which some forces are adopting in rigorous forms at present (MPS CAP). When this issue is combined with the workforce obliteration of losing more than 20,000 police officers between 2010-2018 (Allen & Zayed, 2003, p.3), this issue is drastically exacerbated. Indeed, during the John Harris Memorial Lecture 2019, Commissioner Cressida Dick of the Metropolitan Police Service spoke at length about the development of critical technologies such as forensics and biometrics, against the “woefully low” (Dick, 2019) detection rates which continue to plummet throughout policing in England & Wales, and what she terms the “exploitation challenge” of making technology available to frontline practitioners and policing commanders.

Coupe and Griffiths (1996, p.7) found that officers spent up to 53 minutes at the scene of a burglary which went on to be detected. Looking only at London, the Met reported 81,292 burglaries in FY2018-19 and achieving a meagre detection rate of just 4.8% (Metropolitan Police Service, 2019). Even with only rudimentary mathematics, the extrapolation of this time commitment against the current rate of burglary for London alone leads to a bleak outlook for improvement on its detection rate. 

In June 2010, a study by HMIC found that as little as 1.2% of the policing workforce was available and deployable in a response capacity on the average weekday morning. In summarising this study, they stated that “The fact is that general availability, in which we include neighbourhood policing and response, is relatively low. Several factors have combined to produce this ‘thin blue line’ of which shift patterns, risk management, bureaucracy and specialisation are the most significant.” (HMIC, 2010, p.15)

Tilley and Ford (1996, pp.10-15) found that where officers were attending the scene of incidents, they were often not properly resourced to make decisions on the further investigation of crime, for example in deciding on the allocation of SOCO for forensic examination of the scene. It is noted that forces which implement robust systems for triage in the early stages for SOCO deployment have a higher success rate in detection of crime. 

Coupe and Griffiths (1996, found that much time in secondary investigation is spent simply duplicating work undertaken at the primary investigation stage. Screening decisions have been seen to have been marred by poor quality initial information and a lack of systematic, standardised methods in primary investigation.

The intention of this study is therefore focused on determining how Mobile Data Devices (MDDs) support primary front-line investigators to carry out an effective and robust primary investigation, including initial screening and assessment through to the reporting and handing over of that investigation.

This project is supported by the College of Policing Bursary scheme

Research Methodology

​This project accesses the views of operational officers from three host forces which vary in size and scope. It targets three categories of officer: 1) primary investigators; 2) frontline, first-line supervisors, and 3) secondary investigators. These officers will be invited to participate in an online survey probing their experience of using mobile data devices, their current capabilities, and their desires around future capability of these devices. The survey will then explore the extent of use for the purpose of primary investigation, making investigative decisions, and preparing an investigative handover. This will be assessed from the three positions discussed above in order to determine how the differences are perceived from each of these critical positions throughout an investigation’s lifetime.

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

October 2019
Return to Research Map