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Police officers who lack IT skills should be sacked, report suggests

Matteo Natalucci Published 23 August 2017

Reform think-tank wants shake-up in police digitalisation strategy to combat rising cyber crime threat

 

The Reform think-tank has said police chiefs should be allowed to sack officers with poor IT skills, given that nearly half of all crimes are now enabled by digital technology.

Reform called on police to urgently recruit tech expert ‘volunteers’  from the private sector to support their efforts in fighting the growing threat from cyber crime. Cyber crimes were for the first time this January introduced in the official count of criminal offences committed in England and Wales, causing the statistic to nearly double to 11.8m from 6.6m the previous year.

While  ‘traditional’ forms of crimes such as robbery, violent crime and criminal damage have fallen over the past two decades, digital crimes have been on the rise. Reform urged law-enforcement agencies to address this phenomenon by providing officers and staff with the technology, skills and support to meet digital demand. It suggests police forces must improve their IT capabilities and make better use of new technology to fight crime. The think-tank also advises the Home Office to create a digital academy to train cyber specialists, graduating around 1,700 police officers and staff a year.

Brandon Lewis, minister of state for immigration, in a parliamentary inquiry earlier this year, said that of the 13,503 police special constables (volunteers who offer a minimum of 16 hours’ service a month), 40 (or 0.3 per cent) are cyber specials. In contrast, Estonia employs 1 per cent of IT professionals in its task force, which would translate to 11,831 volunteers in the UK. Reform believes volunteers can be a significant resource to provide digital specialist and IT elite expertise.

One of Reform’s more controversial suggestions advises the government to implement chief inspector of constabulary Sir Tom Winsor’s 2012 recommendation to introduce a system of compulsory severance for all police officers and to further allow force leaders to make officers redundant if they are underperforming, meaning that police chiefs should be allowed to sack officers with poor IT skills.

Reform also recommends police forces  introduce competitive procurement channels, such as the Digital Marketplace to get better deals when purchasing new technology.

Simon Kempton, lead on Digital Policing and Cyber Crime for the Police Federation, said, "The Police Federation has been calling for greater investment to combat online crime for some time. This includes the provision of modern, effective equipment and training. Volunteers have an important part to play in policing all our communities, including the online community, but are no replacement for trained, warranted officers who bring both expertise and their investigative mind-set along with a knowledge of legislation and requirements of the court process.

“Volunteers are a valued part of the police family but by the fact they are volunteers lack some of the flexibility to meet unpredictable demand that a warranted police officer brings. If a child is abducted on a Friday evening and there is an online element to that crime, having a pool of properly trained, warranted police officers are required to give a fast, effective response to that incident, rather than trying desperately to find a cyber volunteer who is understandably juggling their private or social life with that volunteer post.

"It is entirely wrong to suggest that the police service has failed to change; indeed no part of either the public or private sector has gone through as much change as policing over the last decade. The report shows a lack of understanding of the regulations governing policing which already allow for the dismissal of underperforming officers through clearly defined processes. Policing requires a broad base of expertise and to simply dismiss officers who are less conversant with the digital world (rather than giving them proper training) is to treat with absolute contempt those who are prepared to sacrifice everything for the public they serve." Kempton added.

Recommendations

These are ten recommendations listed by Reform in its report:

Recommendation 1 : The Home Office should create a new police digital capital grant to invest in digital infrastructure, worth around £450 million per annum, with funding coming from savings from accelerating Whitehall’s automation agenda.

Government should set one of the public-policy challenges in its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund as reducing crime, and invest in innovative new policing technology companies as part of the Industrial Strategy.

Recommendation 2 : Police forces should use competitive procurement channels, such as the Digital Marketplace, to get value for money when purchasing new technology.

Recommendation 3 : Forces should work with the National Police Chiefs Council to extend force-management statements setting out how to meet demand in 15 years or more. Forces should create skills heatmaps to understand the skills available to meet this demand.

Recommendation 4 : Forces should improve digital understanding through learning apps and offline training.

Recommendation 5 : The Home Office should create a digital academy to train cyber specialists, graduating around 1,700 police officers and staff a year.

Recommendation 6 : Police forces should aim to increase secondment numbers – seconding up to an extra 1,500 officers and staff.

Recommendation 7 : Law-enforcement agencies should seek to increase the number of cyber volunteers to 12,000 from 40, in part by offering more dynamic volunteering opportunities.

Recommendation 8 : The Government should implement Sir Tom Winsor’s 2012 recommendation to introduce a system of compulsory severance for all police officers, and to further allow force leaders to make officers redundant if they are underperforming.

Recommendation 9 : Forces should have fewer than eight ranks, with five likely to be the optimum.

Recommendation 10 : The Home Office should organise an annual hackathon-style convention to provide space for police forces to join national bodies and other experts in developing approaches to meeting the new frontline of crime.








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