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Forces must think about future threats, Cunningham warns

The COVID-19 outbreak has shown forces must think more about the future to be better prepared, the College of Policing has said.

Senior police leaders must be ready for future threats as well as current issues, the College of Policing’s Chief Executive has warned.

Mike Cunningham said police forces will have to upgrade their work on new developments and social changes to factor in issues like climate change, new technology and global events. They need to be able to navigate through the future operating environment, he said.

The Prime Minister has acknowledged there will be an official inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic and forces across the country have already begun preparations for any future review.

The Home Affairs Select Committee has already begun an inquiry into preparedness for the outbreak. A critical question will be why policing wasn't ready. The Cabinet Office, which is in charge of civil contingency work, had created a manual for a pandemic but its advice was not widely known or shared.

CC Cunningham said forces need to have their own plans for operational responses to challenges and threats that result from greater use of technology and globalisation.

He revealed that the College is now developing its own insights and guidance on potential threats as part of a “new way of working”. It will follow on from the launch of an improved website and rebranding.

“Forecasting the future traditionally hasn’t been something policing has done,” he said.

The service has failed to prepare for the rise of online fraud - which is both local and international – or the rise of innovations such as crypto currencies such as Bitcoin, the dark web or the digital ledger system blockchain.

HM Inspectorate has been among those to raise concerns over how future-proofed police are. 

CC Cunningham said forecasting needed to be given the same priority as work on gangs or firearms.

“It’s not crystal ball gazing, it’s a tool that should be used, not a document to be read. One of the things we’ll need to continue to do is build a workforce that is capable of meeting future challenges,” he said.

He highlighted how the COVID-19 pandemic had overwhelmed health and social care services with issues including a struggle to source the correct protective equipment for staff.

He asked why this had happened when the scenario of a virus outbreak had been part of established disaster planning.

He said: “My question to policing is how much preparing was done and training to deal with that forecasting?”

The Police Foundation think-tank has also begun new research into how the 43 forces responded to COVID-19.

CC Cunningham is part of the expert advisory group that also includes Martin Hewitt, Sue Mountstevens, Olivia Pinkney, Owen Weatherill, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Professor Ben Bradford.

It will reveal its research on issues including data and demand forecasting by the end of the year and will make recommendations for improvements ahead of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice.

The Police Foundation said: “The project seeks to identify how policing has coped with the Covid-19 pandemic by examining the strengths and weaknesses of the current policing model in England and Wales.”

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