Samuel Grater is a Digital Forensic Examiner at Surrey Police.
FF: Tell us about your background and how you came to be a Digital Forensic Examiner at Surrey Police?
Since leaving school in 2016, I didn’t have much of a clear plan as to what I wanted to do for a living. I knew university wasn’t going to be for me, as I consider myself more practical than academic, and the idea of getting a job and work experience (plus the bonus of getting paid, too) was enough to make my mind up. I initially wanted to be an electrician or something to do with electronics. I came across an advert for an apprenticeship as an Inspection Operative for a specialist provider of electronic solutions for the rail and transport sectors.
I applied and was successful. As part of my apprenticeship, I learned how a business worked and lots of other fundamental skills. A few years later, I obtained my NVQ and was offered a permanent position within the test and inspection team. I was in charge of in-line and final inspection of wiring kits, electro-mechanical assemblies, cable assemblies, and other bespoke assemblies, against technical drawings and associated documentation. Responsible for reporting fault identification to management and inspecting, testing, and repairing customer returns. I would also liaise with the Quality Manager, Project Manager, and Production Manager on all aspects of any project’s manufacturing and inspection process.
Unfortunately, as for many, Covid-19 hit and the company I worked for had to downsize, and I was eventually made redundant. Considering my options in a competitive field, I took on several part-time roles to keep things in motion, including volunteering as a Covid Vaccine Marshal, in which position I enjoyed helping my local community.
In 2021, I took an opportunity to join Surrey Police as a Force Control Room Operator. I was responsible for operating the Force’s radio system, ensuring the use of accurate radio speak with officers and staff across a range of ranks and roles. In addition to this, my role included taking telephone calls from different divisions and departments, as well as the general public, and taking appropriate action on dealing with requests or queries by policy. I performed dynamic risk assessments, and managed and updated emergency and non-emergency incidents. I utilised specialist systems and applications to provide fast-time accurate searches, and relayed relevant information to police units according to the needs of the situation.
Although I’d learned a lot from this role and gained a vast amount of policing knowledge in a short space of time, it wasn’t for me, and I wanted to do something more within my background of electrical and electronic engineering but remain within the police force, as I enjoy helping others.
To my surprise, I found an opening for a new team within Surrey Police’s Digital Forensics department for Technicians (Level 1 Examination – Practitioner). I applied and managed to secure a position, which I was very pleased to get. I have now recently moved up within Surrey Police’s Digital Forensic Team as an Examiner (Level 2 Examination – Practitioner) and thoroughly enjoy being a part of the department.
FF: What does your job involve? What does a typical day look like?
As a Digital Forensic Examiner, I extract and filter data from mobile and tablet devices to assist frontline policing investigations. I provide tactical and technical support and advice about digital examinations and reviewing of data. I manage, file, and store data in the appropriate storage medium, providing a product to investigating officers. I understand and follow the correct handling of exhibits, maintain continuity and integrity, and ensure all movements and examinations are fully recorded on our case management system. I also support users of forensic workstations/products, ensuring all inquiries are dealt with effectively and promptly, including completion of any maintenance with hardware and software equipment.
FF: What types of digital evidence do you commonly encounter? How do you ensure the integrity and admissibility of such evidence in court?
Depending on the case and the investigating officer’s request for data from a mobile or tablet exhibit, to support a line of inquiry, we can come across almost anything that can be considered digital evidence, such as contacts, call logs, device information, emails, messages (text and 3rd party apps), location data, internet history, photos, videos and so much more. To ensure the integrity of digital evidence, one of the most important factors would be the continuity of the exhibit. The moment a device is seized, every movement must be recorded accurately and stored appropriately. When we examine the device, we must disclose this by keeping a clear audit trail to show exactly the steps that have been carried out to acquire data from the device.
FF: Is there a case you’ve worked on which is particularly memorable because of the role digital forensics played in the investigation?
I won’t comment on any specific case, but I have worked on many memorable cases in which digital evidence provided to investigating officers has played a key part in being used to prosecute and convict offenders, as well as helping give justice to victims.
FF: How do you handle the emotional and psychological impact that may arise from dealing with disturbing or illicit content during the course of an investigation?
There is always a risk of being exposed to disturbing or illicit content during the examination of a device within Digital Forensics. From experience, when I have come across such material, it is important to talk to colleagues and address it rather than dealing with it by myself. I understand that it’s normal to feel disturbed, angry, or upset when dealing with disturbing content. Self-awareness is the first step in managing these emotions. I know I can also ask for help and support if my mental health is being affected.
FF: What advice would you give to someone considering a digital forensics career in law enforcement?
Go for it! That would be the short answer for anyone considering a digital forensics career in law enforcement or any career opportunity that aligns with your aspirations. In regards to digital forensics within law enforcement, you will learn so much about policing and there are opportunities to grow and develop within the field. Working for the Police is demanding but a rewarding position to be in, knowing that I am contributing to solving cases and serving the public in making Surrey a safer place to live in.
FF: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
In my spare time, I try to avoid screens as much as I can from spending most of the day looking at them…although that is a challenge in itself as they are pretty much part of our lives wherever we go. I enjoy getting outdoors for a walk or playing a round of golf, but spending time with my family is most important to me.
If you’d like to connect with Samuel, you can find him on LinkedIn (login required).