Meet the digital detective helping inspire change in our Byker tech hub.
Detective Sergeant Maria Wilson has carved a career around chasing criminals - from working as a prison intelligence officer at HMP Frankland - to carrying out intricate investigations within our Homicide and Major Enquiry Team.
When the 51-year-old joined the Force 17 years ago, she was the oldest recruit on her intake with two young children in tow.
Now, with 10 years’ experience as a detective, she assists DFU Manager Richard Cockerill in the day-to-day running of the Force’s Digital Forensics Unit (DFU) - a labyrinth of labs, computers and workshops which helps put offenders behind bars in very unique way.
The Unit - comprised of 19 investigators – is responsible for analysing more than 2,000 devices each year, securing evidence for some of the Force’s most high profile cases.
And last year alone the team analysed data from 1,145 mobile phones, 520 hard drives, 353 sim cards, 241 laptops and a range of other devices.
Det Sgt Wilson said: “I’ve always been a really passionate detective and wanted to put dangerous offenders behind bars. Moving into the world of digital forensics has shown me how technology really is at the forefront of modern policing.
“Next time you’re out in public, take a look around you – phones and tablets are everywhere, being used all the time - they can trace our movements, link us to everyone we come into contact with and know more about us than you would ever imagine. Just as your friends and family rely on their devices every day for work, so do many criminals, who use technology to source and share indecent images, to bully and harass vulnerable victims and to carry out their offending behind the comfort of a screen.
“Thanks to digital forensics, our expert staff can place offenders at a crime scene and trace their movements; they can gather real insight into their interests, their associates and effectively catch them red-handed.
“We will always need traditional policing and detective work, but in a digital era, where we see so many crimes taking place online, it’s vital we get one-step ahead of those offenders who think they’ll never be caught.”
Praising the work of her team, she added: “The work they do is just phenomenal. To put it into context, the amount of data stored on an iPhone 6s is the equivalent of about 12,800 storage boxes each containing 2,000 A4 pages of full text – and while we would rarely analyse everything stored on someone’s device - I think it’s a great visual representation to show you the scope of just how much information can be saved on a person’s device.
They achieve such great results in a very stressful, highly-pressurised environment where they have to read, see and hear some of the most shocking things you could imagine. But they do it to keep vulnerable people safe from harm and to make sure predatory paedophiles, fraudsters and other dangerous offenders are brought to justice.”
The DFU is vital part of Northumbria Police’s crime department and assists with all sorts of investigations – from murders, online grooming, sexual exploitation and abuse, complex frauds and various other offences where a suspect’s or victim’s digital devices might hold vital information.
Inspired by Maria’s story? Visit https://careers.northumbria.police.uk/