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Exploring digital evidence recognition among officers and troopers in a sample of a state police force

Thomas J. Holt (School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University , East Lansing, Michigan, USA )
Shelly Clevenger ( Illinois State University , Normal, Illinois, USA )
Jordana Navarro (Department of Criminal Justice, The Citadel, Charleston, South Carolina, USA )

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 11 December 2019

Issue publication date: 6 April 2020




The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which line officers in police agencies can identify digital evidence at crime scenes, also known as the binary artifacts stored on computers, mobile devices, tablets and the internet, through an analysis of survey responses of line staff in a Midwestern state police agency.


An electronic survey was completed by 258 respondents using a scenario-based vignette asking them to identify where such evidence may be located during a fictitious call for service.


Most all respondents identified appropriate devices and locations where digital evidence may be stored on suspects and victims in a scenario call for service. There were significant differences in responses on the basis of recent field experience with digital evidence.

Research limitations/implications

The findings demonstrate the importance of experiential learning and training for line staff in police agencies to prepare them for basic digital evidence handling in the field. This sample is, however, based on a single state police agency and may not be reflective of other similarly sized agencies. Future research is needed to replicate this study and expand the generalizability of these findings.


First responders should be able to identify and secure all appropriate forms of evidence at crime scenes, regardless of crime type, while awaiting specialized investigators. This study is one of the first to consider when and how police are able to recognize digital evidence at crime scenes.



There was no external research funding for this study.


Holt, T.J., Clevenger, S. and Navarro, J. (2020), "Exploring digital evidence recognition among officers and troopers in a sample of a state police force", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 43 No. 1, pp. 91-103.



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