Forensic Capability Network CEO sets
out vision for future of forensics in policing
Operational investigators need to be empowered and supported to use forensics to carry out their work on the frontline efficiently and effectively, according to Jo Ashworth, the interim CEO of the Forensic Capability Network (FCN).
The Home Office-funded Forensic Capability Network was officially launched six months ago, under the auspices of the NPCC Transforming Forensics Programme, with the remit of providing a much-needed national approach to forensics in policing.
Jo Ashworth, a familiar face in the police forensic world, was given the task of setting up the new organisation, alongside a team of practitioners and specialists from the police forensics community. She is clear that if the new organisation is to be successful then it must be what she described as ‘police-owned and police led’.
Speaking to the Investigator, she explained: “The whole aim of the Forensic Capability Network is to support delivery on the frontline and it’s vital that our work must reflect the operational needs of the investigator.
“A key requirement of doing their jobs effectively is for investigators to be given their forensic evidence at the place they want it, when they want it.
“At the heart of the FCN is the desire to work together nationally to deliver high quality, specialist forensic science capabilities; to share knowledge and to improve resilience, efficiency, quality and effectiveness.”
The new organisation, which has been sponsored by Dorset Police, comes at a time when forensics and digital
forensics is now an integral part of all investigations and has become ‘business as usual’ for individual forces and
law enforcement organisations. However, the national picture has been inconsistent and piecemeal.
Mrs Ashworth points out that it is now an opportune time for a national approach that must reflect the operational
needs of the end user.
She brings to the role 32 years’ experience working at all levels of forensic provision in the police service, starting
her career as forensic manager at West Yorkshire Police. In those days, it was recognised that forensics was carried
out by experts in laboratories and that there was a disconnect between this work and the needs of the frontline.
As she continued up the ranks to forensic scientist then scientific support manager this disconnect between the lab
and the frontline became more apparent.
Recognising the limitations of this approach, Mrs Ashworth tried to redress the balance and bring forensics back to
the frontline first as Director of Forensic Services of the newly set up East Midlands Special Operations Unit and then
latterly as Programme Director for the NPCC Transforming Forensics programme.
She was recognised for her services to forensic science with an OBE five years ago. Her enthusiasm and passion continue unabated and she is determined that the FCN will develop into an organisation that is truly representative of the people it serves.
The FCN is structured into four pillars which are responsible for providing national guidance. They are science, commercial, quality and operations.
This work is supported by operational officers who Mrs Ashworth describes as her ‘policing conscience.’
Even though the organisation has a clear structure at the centre, what makes it unique is that is has members from operational policing who make up the ‘community’ who help shape and guide the organisation to ensure it does reflect operational needs.
“The FCN is as much about the investigators using forensics as it is the forensic professionals delivering to them,’ she explains.
“We’re giving the community the opportunity to really influence what we do and how we do it. Forensics is changing. We are doing it with you. We are not doing it to you.”
Its April launch was timely in that it came at the start of the coronavirus pandemic which allowed it to hit the ground running by providing national guidance around an array of areas including conducting biometric samples of people in custody to ensure they are covid-compliant.
The commercial pillar successfully worked at sourcing personal protective equipment for frontline officers to ensure a national approach.
Future work includes supporting investigators to download and process digital evidence in real-time at a crime scene to reduce backlogs and provide more effective justice to victims.
The FCN will also be looking at the relationship between policing and commercial suppliers to ensure that it is more of a partnership approach that accurately reflects the needs of policing.
Contact the FCN: If you would like to contact the FCN and be part of the community, just visit www.fcn.police.uk/contact-us.