20,000 new police will not make UK law enforcement fit for the Internet Age

The Times has again revealed the scale of the UK problem with tackling cyber-facilitated fraud . But most mainstream crime (from gang violence and rape to burglary) now has an on-line dimension. The need to analyse the social media, mobile phone records or security systems of victim or suspect and present the results in court is now commonplace. That complicates attempts to restrict the information available to jurors to that on which the judge and lawyers can agree while still allowing justice for the victim. No wonder confidence in the “system” is crumbling.

20,000 more police are welcome. But how will they be trained and used. Over a decade ago the EURIM-IPPR study into “Partnership Policing for the Information Society” identified that the police would never have more than a fraction of the resources necessary to address on-line crime.  One “answer” is to return to Peelite policing principles, with full time police working in partnership with security professionals and user communities (on-line and off-line) on investigation as well as prevention. That will entail facing up to governance issues that most would prefer to avoid   We also need to make it very much easier for victims to get support and redress, including via civil action where criminal conviction is unlikely, inadequate or inappropriate.

The problems are worst in London

The problems affect all parts of the UK and the solutions require national and international co-operation but they are at their worst in London. It is not just that the cyber-expertise of the Metropolitan Police has been repeatedly raided, first to staff anti-terrorism teams and more latterly the National Crime Agency. Mainstream community policing and the ability to contact the police for help have also collapsed in London. Volunteers and specials are down by over 2/3 rds since the peak at the time of the Olympics. Most access/reporting points (e.g. via counters in police stations or libraries) were wiped out last year on “efficiency” grounds – instead of being transferred to trained volunteers. It appears to have been a matter of policy, not just resource. Even e-mail addresses on the websites of the Safer Neighbourhood Teams, (to enable them to be sent non-urgent video clips of suspicious activity such as drug dealing, car theft, shoplifting, anti-social behaviour  etc.) have been removed.

According to the latest Special Constable National Strategy “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”.  Most police resource is no longer used to support the principles set by Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington for consent-based crime reduction and community safety. It is rationed to meet top down national targets. In the case of the Metropolitan Police these include anti-terrorism and demonstrations. The local residents see what the Duke of Wellington did not want them to see – an occupying force which descends on the area in response to an “incident” and then vanishes a few hours or days later.

Which kills more? Knife Crime or on-line abuse/fraud?

The headlines are for drugs and knife crime. But on-line fraud and abuse are even more out of control. More adults and children commit  suicide or self-harm as a result than are murdered or maimed on the street. And as the original Times investigation uncovered on-line crime is almost impossible to report – with everything, not just Fraud, drowning the one all centre.

And how do you report either?

The problems were not only predictable they were predicted – even before the rapid growth in the use of social media compounded the problems. The processes via which the subsequent Home Office strategy to handle the problems was blocked by other Government departments illustrated Whitehall politics at their worst. The way in which the City of London Police were manoeuvred into an impossible role illustrated Police politics at their most Machiavellian. The problems of under-reporting now apply to almost all crime. Apart from the overstretched 999 service it is said to be almost impossible to “report” to anyone who will take action or provide victim support unless some-one is dead or seriously injured or the value is over £100,000 (allegedly £2 million in London).  Meanwhile far too many youngsters would rather bleed to death or commit suicide than go to the police. And far too many victims of fraud (large or small) are dead within the year.

Bridging the gulf between the police and the community

Meanwhile the gulf between the police and the community has widened, especially in cities with large immigrant communities. Over 40% of the population of many inner London boroughs were born outside the UK. They account for a similar proportion of crime.  Volunteers and special constables are more likely to represent the community. Their numbers have collapsed in those forces, like the Metropolitan Police, which have not yet implemented the 2011 changes designed to enable a rapid expansion in advance of the Olympic Games.  These allowed (with checks) the recruitment of security and medical professionals, youth and care workers (including those dealing with the criminal justice system) and military reservists. We need many more, (including those with relevant clinical, cultural, technical and professional experience and expertise)  to support community policing, local and national incident response and victim support teams. It is the only practical way of relieving the pressure on full-time police officers. This is particularly so with regard to handling young offenders and the many incidents involving drugs and mental health issues as well as with regard to cyber.

The recommendations a decade ago, for handling cybercrime and fraud, included using industry resources to streamline and automate the collation of information (from all sources) about on-line abuse/fraud into crime reports for action. The Culture Media and Sport Select Committee cybersecurity report more recently identified (para 25) the need to provide better victim support guidance and contacts (e.g via Citizens Advice), including  to enable action under civil and contract law where appropriate.

The plans, announced with the Queen’s speech, to allow Special Constables to join the Police Federation is a welcome step in helping break down cultural barriers between full-time officers and “specials” and consequent opposition to recruiting many more volunteers, with their own professional skills, to complement those of the professionals. Police service volunteers and special constables are already more likely to represent the communities they help police. Targeted expansion among immigrant communities, including to attract those who may progress to become full-time policemen, is probably the only realistic way of addressing London’s problems. We can no longer afford the divisions and risks arising from a situation where even the community police may commute in from outside the M25.

The plans, announced with the Queen’s speech, to allow Special Constables to join the Police Federation is a welcome step in helping break down cultural barriers between full-time officers and “specials” and consequent opposition to recruiting many more volunteers, with their own professional skills, to complement those of the professionals.

My recent work on Community Safety (on -line and off line) has also led me to appreciate that the fear of on-line fraud/abuse, compounded by difficulty of reporting to some-one who will take action or provide victim support, means on-line services are used least by those (poor, elderly, vulnerable) who would benefit most. Such fears are also a major obstacle to those who wish those most worth defrauding (pensioners with disposable wealth) most resistant to on-line banking. Hence the reason that many of those in the Communications and Financial Services industries (and their security, incident management, insurance, asset recovery and legal advisors) would like to worth much more closely with law enforcement to protect and support their customers (large and small).

The actions necessary to enable the 20,000 more full-time police to have an impact:

1) Require all police forces (particularly the Met Police) to implement the 2011 changes to allow security and medical professionals and youth and care workers to become police service volunteers and special constables and to build the processes into their mainstream recruitment and career development strategies.

In parallel support (e.g. processes for joint funding) the creation of community (both local and non-geographic – e.g.cyber) linked incident response and victim support teams to relieve the pressure on full-time police officers and to support to the latter with access to professional expertise, contacts and industry resources.

The aim should be to recruit and train an additional two volunteers, whether warranted or not, for every new full-time officer.

This should be additional to, not as part of, the 20,000 new officers

2) Organise central clearing operations for the bulk- automated “notifications” of abuse/fraud from banks, ISPs, on-line retailers, telcos and others, to facilitate joined-up action and collation (where appropriate) into meaningful crime reports for Action Fraud  (and/or others) to forward to those who will take action – whether law enforcement, the security services or under contractual obligations or duty of care for their customers.

GCHQ should have a major role in this space.

So too should the Communications, Internet and Payment service providers, including players like Amazon, BT, Google, Vocalink, Vodaphone and the High Street Banks.

(In fact work is under way in this space, but far too slowly and hobbled by priorities other than crime prevention, victim support and “asset recovery” (following the money and using civil/contract law to recover it from those aiding and abetting the culprits if they do not assist).

3) Develop, support and publicise (via Citizens Advice, Victim Support etc.) processes (including governance) for voluntary co-operation between business (including the cybersecurity industry) and law enforcement for reporting, investigation and redress under civil/contract law where criminal prosecution is unlikely.

In this context any recovered proceeds of crime, whether after criminal conviction or civil action facilitated by the police. should go into relevant police budgets – not Treasury. I fully understand the arguments against this. In practice the bigger risk is that they protect those who use criminal wealth to corrupt and distort justice more than they motivate the police to go after them. I would look forward to seeing the new intake of MPs debate this one – bringing a fresh perspective to an old debate.

3) Bring forward rapid action on the On-line Harms White Paper (e.g. the oven ready bill just given to the Minister on her re-appointment) and implementation of the Digital Economy Act provisions for on-line age-checking using the audit of already available systems , including from AVPA members , against PAS 1296  (now in the process of becoming an international standard) in place of the expensively delayed and proably abandoned processes proposed by the BBFC for implementation manana. Extend these to cover the purchases of knives, alcohol and access to social media services.

This will help focus the minds of the on-line giants towards helping protect their customers and their business models from crumbling confidence on the part of advertisers, public and even their own staff.

4) Pledge a review of the Criminal Justice System led by Victims and Jurors not Judges and Lawyers.

This is a much bigger subject but “justice delayed is justice denied” and the current system cannot cope. I support the adversarial system but “justice” will not be well served unless and until we allow jurors to give verdicts according to rather more of the evidence available, not just the selective subsets they have been allowed to hear. But we also need to redress the current imbalance in favour of the guilty perpetrator and against the innocent victim.

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