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Policing revamp needed to tackle rise of digital crime, says Reform report

Think tank calls for £450m increase in police digital budget and giving bosses the ability to fire officers without digital skills

A report by think tank Reform has called for an overhaul of UK policing, including recruiting volunteers from the private sector to fight cyber crime, a huge increase in digital budgets, and upskilling officers.

The report, Bobbies on the net, said that as almost half of all crime “relies on digital technology”, UK police must respond to digital demand.  

It set out 10 recommendations, the most controversial one calling for the government to implement chief inspector of constabulary Thomas Winsor’s 2012 recommendation to allow police leaders to fire officers who are underperforming.

Reform said the UK’s police forces need a wide range of powers to design their workforces to meet demand, including the ability to dismiss underperforming officers and to use compulsory severance measures for officers in roles that are no longer needed.

“Senior managers, officers and staff argued that the ability to fire officers without the necessary skills would allow chiefs to get the skill base to meet digital demand and shift culture,” the report said.

Reform said all police officers require an understanding of “digital trends and threats”, but some of those interviewed for the report said that digitisation “terrified officers”.

“An understanding of digital threats and ability to use digital technology to address demand is no longer an optional extra in policing,” the think tank said, adding that training needs to improve both basic and specialist skills across all police forces.

Reform suggested that training should be delivered “dynamically”, through tools such as smartphone apps providing information on “key topics”.

The report pointed out that there is currently “no training on cyber crime, or even introductions to new technology”. It found that out of 13,503 special constables, those who volunteer for a minimum of 16 hours a month, only 40 are cyber specials.

Digital academy

To tackle the rise of cyber crime, Reform called on the Home Office to establish a digital academy to train 1,700 cyber specialists a year, as well as asking police forces to recruit tech experts from the private sector as volunteers. The goal, it said, should be to increase the number of cyber volunteers from 40 to 12,000.  

“Police forces should make better use of secondments, and introduce on-demand cyber volunteer units to help fight the most sophisticated crime, such as cyber attacks,” the report said.

In the 2015 spending review, the government introduced a Police Transformation Fund run by the Police Reform and Transformation Board, with final decisions made by the Home Office. 

The aim of the fund is to incentivise police forces to meet future challenges and take advantage of innovation and new technologies, but Reform said in its report that the £175m fund should “better target genuinely transformational technology”.  

It also called for a further £450m investment in the form of a new police digital capital grant.

“This funding can come from administrative savings from accelerating the government’s automation agenda, which Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year,” the report said.

“The government should also set one of the public policy challenges in its £4.7bn Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund as reducing crime and invest in innovative new policing technology companies as part of the industrial strategy.”

Reform also called for better procurement practices for buying new technology, which in part echoes Winsor’s 2017 State of policing report, which said police forces should improve their adoption and implementation of technology.

Last year, the UK National Police Chiefs’ Council set out its vision for policing in 2025, aiming to improve data sharing, integrate IT functions, improve digital intelligence and make digital interactions easier.

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