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Police Service must rethink response to 21st Century crime says review

Police forces should look to bring in cyber crime experts to tackle fraud and other online offences rather than train existing officers. Early findings from the Police Foundation review include that forces must change to deal with modern threats.

Police forces should look to employing IT specialists and change the way they respond to complex challenges like mental health, according to the first stage of a major review of policing.

The first stage of the Police Foundation’s review of policing in England and Wales found forces are good at enforcing against physical offences but are unprepared to deal with the volume and complexity of online offences such as fraud.

More complex crime investigations are hampered by a national shortfall of 5,000 detectives and up to six month waits for examinations of digital evidence.   

Dr Rick Muir, Director at the Police Foundation, told Police Oracle: “We don’t think the Police Service in its current context can do all of the things we want it to do. From the number of people going missing from care homes to internet cyber crime; the range of things we expect them to do, it’s challenging the confidence of communities.”

The Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales is chaired by Sir Michael Barber and hosted by the Police Foundation, the UK’s independent policing think tank. The Police Foundation’s Chair, Sir Bill Jeffrey, former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence is Vice Chair of the Review.  

The first phase of the Review has assessed and defined the challenge the police should be prepared to face over the coming decades. Contributors have included forces across the country and the Police Federation as well the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

It found that while traditional crime such as burglary and car theft has fallen since the turn of the millennium, in its place there has been a huge rise in online crime and in sexual offences reported to the police. The police also have to deal with many more incidents involving people who are multiply disadvantaged. 

Since 1995 crime (excluding fraud and cybercrime) has fallen by 70% (this includes a 72% fall in violent crime, a 74% fall in burglary and a 79% fall in vehicle theft). Cybercrime and fraud have increased rapidly and made up 44% of all crime in 2019. Fraud is now more common than theft (33%) or violent crime (12%), making up 36% of crime.

The police are now called to many more incidents involving complex issues: mental health related incidents increased by 28% between 2014 and 2018 and incidents involving missing people rose by 46% between 2013/14 and 2016/17. 

The second phase of the review will look at the capabilities the police service will need to meet these challenges. 

The Home Secretary has said she believes the current arrangement of 43 forces is not meeting demands and that the system of funding them is not fit for purpose. Priti Patel has also ordered a review into how Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners are working together.

Concerns have also been raised by HM Inspectorate into the way forces collaborate together and how forces are tackling online fraud.

Dr Muir said forces should focus on what they do best and look to different approaches to tackle issues like cyber crime and the impact of organised crime on offences such as human trafficking which cross local as well as international boundaries.

“Most of the fraud investigations could be done by civilian investigators who are desk-bound. You don’t need police powers for most of that,” he said.

The impact of the COVID-19 outbreak has shown how the economy also has an impact on crime and Police Minister Kit Malthouse is understood to have ordered a review of lockdown data.

Dr Muir told Police Oracle that parts of the leisure industry could do more to ease the burden on policing.

“There’s the night time economy which takes up a huge amount of police resources. Is there anything the industry can do through encouraging responsible behaviour? Clearly, we could take out some of the demand,” he said.

Questions are being asked about the 43-force model and how to pay for them but, as attempts to re-organise local government and the NHS have shown, changing structures may not be the answer.

Dr Muir said the issue needed careful consideration: “Everybody accepts that it’s not really justifiable as it stands. The difficulty is that whenever you try to change it there are winners and losers. And funding is coming from Council Tax. It may be the right thing to do but council tax is quite a flawed system because it’s based on valuations – and there’s the fairness of that.”

He added that for forces to be effective, they needed a better national support system with organisations like the National Police Chiefs’ Council being better resourced to share best practice and improve joint working.

But the positives are that outside of violent crime and online offending, most communities are very safe and the reputation of the police remains strong.

“Public confidence in the police is quite high – 75% of the public say they trust the police. But crime is changing really fast and currently the Police Service isn’t up to pace on this,” Dr Muir said.

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