As part of our summer-long Beyond the Beat campaign, we are looking this week at the work that goes on throughout the Force to combat Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).

We recently spoke to officers and staff at the Data Forensics Unit (DFU), who provide evidence from electronic devices that can prove crucial in the investigation of CSE cases.

It's a vital part of police work that is often hidden from the public eye.

The DFU (or Computer Crime Unit as it was known in the beginning) started in 1997 with just two staff working out of Fraud Squad dealing with hard drives and floppy discs, with data in the megabytes.

Fast forward to 2018, and the Unit, which is part of the 4-Force regional collaboration known as South West Forensics, now consists of 15 staff in a range of highly-specialist and technical roles.

With eight investigators, four examiners and three technicians, the team use a range of tools and software to extract and analyse data from electronic devices to be used as part of an investigation, ensuring that data is collected and prepared appropriately for use in court.

Being a part of a 4-force collaboration gives Wiltshire access to three other DFU teams in the region and the resilience to call upon a further 35 computer forensic staff at times of high risk and high demand.

A typical day sees a wide range of digital items passing through the doors of the DFU, all containing digital information that could be crucial to a case.

And with more and more cases relying on the information stored on people's digital devices it's a demand that is ever-increasing in both quantity and complexity.

"At any one time we may be working on 80 or so cases per month that involve 100s of digital exhibits," said one of the leaders of the team. "Some may be at the start of the investigation, others may be months down the line. The cases can encompass any crime type - anywhere where extracting data from a digital device is considered relevant to the investigation. But sadly a large part of our work is related to child exploitation or child abuse cases.

"Cases can be referred to us from all area of the business, such as the Major Crime Investigation Team (MCIT), Fraud, CID, and the drugs teams. The majority are from the Child Internet Exploitation Team (CIET) or the Public Protection Department (PPD) and are related to child sexual exploitation or abuse.

"It can be a tough and stressful job, but also hugely rewarding when you help to get a conviction.

"In a recent case we worked on in DFU the suspect was convicted of sexual activity with a child and possessing and distributing 1000s of illegal images. As a result of the work done by DFU staff and our CIET colleagues, this led to a sentence of over 18 years and the suspect being placed indefinitely on the Sex Offenders Register.

"Much of this work goes unseen by the general public, but is vital in helping to secure convictions and keep us safe"

#beyondthebeat is a summer-long campaign which aims to show the public the hidden side of policing. Future weeks will cover cybercrime, burglary and modern slavery. Keep an eye out on social media using the hashtag #beyondthebeat for more insight into the hidden side of the work we do.

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