Covid-19 gives new opportunities for fraud, both on-line and off-line while law enforcement is less able than normal to respond. The most vulnerable are also those least likely to see the guidance intended to protect them . The rush to recruit volunteers, nationally and locally means most checks are cursory. Many well-intentioned groups appear to be making no checks at all. The combination will facilitate a crime wave that will gather pace rapidly as the lock down is lifted.
Hence the need for a call for Police volunteers akin to that for NHS Volunteers
The start point is to implement the extensions to those eligible to serve as special constables that were originally intended to be used to help recruit 10,000 in time for the Olympic Games. But the aim should be to go much further. We need to complete the implementation of the new approach to Community Policing announced when David Blunkett was Home Secretary: “Building Communities: Beating Crime” . We also need to implement the recommendations in “Building CyberCommunities: Beating Cybercrime” This summarised the reports of the EURIM IPPR Study into Partnership Policing for the Information Society These formed the basis of a comprehensive Home Office policy which was blocked by the other tribes of Whitehall although some used to help plan the Police Central e-Crime Unit and Get Safe On-line.
The internecine politics of UK Law Enforcement were also compounded by a reluctance to address the issues of organisation, training and, above all, governance that are raised when partnership and volunteering are taken seriously. Partnership policing, using teams of volunteers with other relevant skills, knowledge and experience, working alongside policing professionals, in line with the principles of Peelite policing , requires governance structures which get in the way of enabling politicians and officials, central or local, to set police priorities and monitor performance against “targets”.
The tensions between top down, “target driven policing” and bottom up “policing by consent” may soon reach breaking point if total lockdown lasts more than a few weeks and is followed by mass unemployment and attempts to enforce “solutions” on those who no longer believe in the competence of the state. We will soo reach the limits of command and control. Hence the need for an army of volunteers to bridge not just the resource gap, but also the communications, relations and understanding gaps between local police and the communities they supposedly exist to serve.
This evening I am due to propose (the Gods of Technology willing) a motion, drafted before the Covid outbreak took hold, at the first major political consultation event to move on-line as a result of that outbreak. The Conservative Policy Forum had planned a policy competition for the Spring Forum in the Harrogate confernce centre. This is now being converted into another Nightingale Hospital. That competition is now being held on-line, using Zoom. This will, inter alia, test of our ability to secure on-line political debate against ZoomBombers at the same time as MPs are working to move Parliamentary business, including getting answers to Constituents’ questions, on-line.
Those wishing to ask questions and vote have to join CPF using a process which appears to include checking their party membership status. Only then can they register to participate. Even though I will be presenting and have practiced with the technology I have yet to receive my personal invitation for this event.
Those wishing to read my proposal can find it here. I strongly recommend you also read the others. I would be happy to lose to that recommending the long overdue merger of National Insurance and Income Tax
Those wishing to see some of the background to my proposal will find more on the case for “Cyber Community Policing” here and on the case for a Cybercommunity Partnership here. You can find for yourselves the plethora of links on the current plague of attacks, as potential victims and those who might protect them are kettled in their homes.
The decline of Community and Partnership Policing over the past decade
The proportion of special constables to full time police has fallen over the past 20 years from 16% in 1996 to 9% in 2019. The trend is distorted by the Metropolitan Police where the proportion rose from under 6% in 1996 to nearly 18% in 2012 before falling back to barely 6% in 2019. [Police Service Strength- House of Commons Library] Most forces have many as non-warranted volunteers as they have specials but these are not reported nationally. Some forces have plans to double or treble the number of warranted and unwarranted volunteers.
The Special Constabulary National Strategy 2018 – 2023 says Specials and Police Service Volunteers are more representative of the local community (ethnically, culturally, socially) than the regular police force – albeit there is no supporting documentation for this claim. It also says that “Only around 20% of the overall calls for assistance received by the police service is made up of traditional volume crime, with the remainder made up of public safety and welfare and non-crime incidents such as mental ill-heath, concerns for safety and missing persons”. It goes on to say that much of the current training of special constables is concerned with law definitions, powers of arrest and procedural matters to handle the 20%.
In 2011 the blanket ban on members of the medical and health profession becoming special constables was lifted . This should have enabled the recruitment of those with the experience and background to better handle the increasing number of incidents involving those with, for example, mental problems. The ban on recruiting youth and probation working who might have dealings with the legal system was also lifted. So too was that on those working in security, including the thousands (possibly tens of thousands) working in cybersecurity, handling on-line abuse and e-crime investigation and response for industry. But many police forces, including the Metropolitan Police have not adopted the 2011 eligibility guidance.
The 2017 Police and Crime Act allows for a number of powers, which previously required warranted powers, to be passed to police service volunteers. Some forces are exploiting the opportunity. Others are not. It should, however, be noted that volunteers are not covered by their professional indemnity insurance when exercising their skills. They need either to be paid (even if only a peppercorn) so that their insurance is valid. Or they need to be warranted and/or otherwise acting within police governance structures.
80% of crime now has an on-line dimension requiring specialist skills.
Over a decade ago it was identified [EURIM-IPPR Partnership Policing Study, 2002 – 6 that that the police were never likely to have more than a fraction of the resources (whether numbers or expertise) necessary for on-line law enforcement. Since then the problems have become very much more serious at every level – from teenage bullying and abuse, (including to “discipline” schools and neighbourhoods in support of drugs gangs), through mass-market and/or targeted extortion and fraud to “integrated” elder abuse. It is estimated that of 60% of all pensioners (whether or not they themselves go on-line) have been “profiled” to enable fraudsters to get at their savings, pensions and/or benefits.
It is now even more essential to have effective partnership between law enforcement and industry, particularly those who want their customers to transact with them on-line and/or use their services. Thanks to the lockdown that includes everyone still in business! There are variety of approaches around the world. In the UK we need to have similarly large numbers of volunteers (both warranted and unwarranted) but we also need them to be operating within effective and well-publicised governance structures.
We also need to bridge the gulf between the on-line world and the physical neighbourhood, especially when it comes to working with schools, faith and youth groups, medical practices to prevent our children being led astray.
In a “public health” approach to crime it is not just the problem families who are “rotten apples in the barrel”. Social media is the new “water”. The sources of pollution can be close to home (e.g. same class or street) or on the other side of the world. The difference is that the digital infection (e.g. a social media gang challenge or a grooming/recruitment video) can spread very much faster than any water-borne infection.
Attempts over the past decade to draw in the expertise of industry in support of law enforcement and victim support/redress have been largely limited to awareness campaigns and/or investigations where the victims were well-connected, attracted press attention or were lucky enough to come to the attention of “the right officer at the right time”. There are many reasons. Not all of them stand up to scrutiny, whether ethical, economic, technical or practical.
The issues that need addressing in order to put flesh on the proposal include:
- differentiating between volunteers to top up incident response teams and mass policing events and those to meet local/specialist needs.
Many may be willing and able to act as general purpose “punch bags” on their Friday/Saturday nights or to help police sporting events, demonstrations, terrorist incidents or protect crime scenes but those who are not can help with local teams with invaluable knowledge, languages, victim support and enquiry services or provide specialist skills to borough, city or county teams.
- the need to prevent community policing passing into the hands of local vested interests, including those who themselves corrupt.
The BBC article on David Blunkett’s attempts at reform includes a guarded reference to the “intelligence failure” (alias the deletion of records, supposedly for data protection purposes, but actually at the behest of a senior local politician, subsequently exposed as an active pederast, to protect himself and his fellow predators) that enabled the Soham murderer to pass a police check before getting a job as a school caretaker. Problems with addressing child and domestic abuse in locations from Rotherham to Oxford indicate similar problems resulting from pressures to avoid “upsetting” relationships with particular communities. There are reasons why the vulnerable within those communities trust the police no more than their own “leaders”.
The need is for active, open and public local monitoring and accountability, including via active, representative Safer Neighbourhood (policing) and Community Safety (including health, welfare and the other causes of crime and disorder) Partnerships. This should be much easier if Neighbourhood Policing Teams include panels of Special Constables and other volunteers drawn from balanced cross sections of the communities represented in local government units (Wards, Parishes etc.) within which they operates. These should be additional to the volunteers for specialist roles with Borough, City or County teams, although individuals might well volunteer for both.
- the desire of Government to be able to put its priorities ahead of those of local communities.
The priorities of Government include being seen to respond to calls in the media for “consistency” (as with local interpretations of the rules on social distancing during the Covid-19 lockdown). The tensions with the priorities of local communities can be seen with the discontent in London caused when police are “abstracted” from Safer Neighbourhood Teams to handle state visits, demonstrations, major sporting events and/or investigating political or historic scandals.
There is a need to allow a variety of types of volunteer, including local, limited and conditional e.g. those with mental health experience/expertise to be available within agreed hours to help handle incidents (including escorting needs) which require this or for those with cyber experience to be similarly available help with victim support or to help work through backlogs of digital evidence
- large scale training, including on-line, which covers both than which is common to all UK police forces and that which is local (e.g. joint-working with Coastguards, Mountain Rescue, Farmwatcher or EagleWatch).
Volunteers are not free. The objective is not save money. It is to improve policing. The run down of volunteer policing to save money over the past few years, particularly in London, was a false economy. In London it widened the gulf between the Metropolitan Police and the many diverse (cultural, linguistic, religious etc.) and makes the City vulnerable to local reruns of the 2011 riots as the lock down is lifted and before the newly unemployed get back into work.
The time for action is now.
Afteer tonight I expect to be asked to help identity who is interested in helping move from talk to action.
Appendix A – The 2011 Changes to Eligibility Guidance
This is guidance only. Chief Constable may over-ride it. Must have right of residency. Health requirements are as for regular officers.
Annex A – those who are ineligible – a much shorter list than previously
Annex B – subject to agreement of employer and at discretion of Chief Constable. Military reserves, the fire service, occupations with client privilege and members of the medical and health professions now come into this category. You can be a member of both military and police reserves, with military taking precedence.
Annex C – where applications should be carefully scrutinised. This now includes many roles which were previously barred: e.g. youth and probation workers whose roles bring them into contact with the legal systems or “employees of security organisations and security personnel, guards and doors supervisor”>The latter is now jobs with “the potential for them to use their position in the police for their own advantage or the advantage of their employers e.g. such as the patrolling and guarding of buildings, the transit of cash and valuable, wearing uniforms and contact with the public.”
Most forces quote a summarised version of the 2011 guidance but some (e.g. the Metropolitan Police) still quote the previous exclusions on their websites.