'Plea' to West Yorkshire Police to return seized phones to suspects and victims more quickly
West Yorkshire Police have been urged to return mobile phones and laptops to people involved in criminal investigations more quickly.
People's lives have been heavily disrupted by officers taking several months to examine phones for evidence, a public meeting was told on Friday.
The issue was highlighted as a key area of improvement for the force three years ago.
West Yorkshire Police's chief constable said "significant progress" had been made and that the average waiting time was now down to around one month.
But speaking at a police and crime panel meeting on Friday, panel member Roger Grasby asked for the force to produce concrete data to back up that claim.
Mr Grasby, a magistrate, said that figures given to the panel around "six years ago" suggested the force were taking upwards of several months to return phones and laptops.
By contrast other forces took just weeks to take the evidence they needed.
Mr Grasby said: "I know people who've had their phones and their laptops held by police for months after months after months, and they've never been charged or convicted.
"I'd like the police to be aware of the impact being without a phone, especially at the moment, has on people's lives.
"Even in the last two or three years, the reliance people have on their phones is quite different (to before).
"My plea is that the force understands this and does everything possible to return devices to their lawful owners and that they download materials quickly so their lives are not disrupted in this way."
West Yorkshire Police's chief constable, John Robins, said that £10m had been invested into digital forensics and that the force would soon have one of largest such units anywhere in the country.
He told the meeting: "I'm pleased to report this has got significantly better.
"We've put significant pieces of work and equipment into place.
"In the same way a police officer used to walk straight into a CID office, now they need to be able to walk straight into a digital office so that they can access that equipment and that advice.
"I think on average we're down to about a month in terms of waiting times, but there are still some longer cases, which are to do with the nature of the equipment and the device.
"It's a huge area of work and we're going in the right direction, but it's going to need huge amounts of investment going forward."
Local Democracy Reporting Service