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Policing needs reboot for 21st Century crime, review lead warns

Forces are heavily focused on non-policing work and not prepared for the digital age, according to the strategic review’s head.

Policing is keeping communities safe from real-world harm but needs help to tackle the rise of tech-enabled crime.

That is the core message from the leader of the Strategic Review of Policing will warn forces are also having to deal with issues that belong to the NHS and council social services.

Sir Michael Barber will use an event hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank to warn significant work is needed to enable forces to deal with online fraud and violent offending by organised crime gangs working across local and international boundaries.

Forces are working every day to keep the public safe in their communities despite, rather than because of, the system they are operating.

And they are unprepared for the virtual world generating offences including child sex abuse, online fraud and extremism.

He will also warn that the recent reputational issues are part of a bigger problem that that “only fundamental reform” can reverse.

At the start of the government’s planning for the Uplift recruitment programme, the sector raised concerns that it was a too simplistic response to the years of austerity.

And the cuts have left officers dealing with issues that belong with other parts of the public sector.

Those issues will be raised again by the review findings.

He will highlight that detentions of a person under the Mental Health Act increased by 33% between 2017 and 2020 and three million ‘investigation hours’ per year were devoted to missing persons.

Sir Michael will tell the event: “The thin blue line is now stretched far too thin. It is encouraging that more police are now being recruited but there is a long way to go. Too often our police are effectively a social service dealing more with mental health and family breakdown than crime fighting or crime prevention service. We need more police and they need a laser focus on the crime challenges of today." 

The rise of technology is now a critical issue: “In the digital age, where the dark web is often the new crime frontline, it can feel like a contest between a Betamax police force and Block chain enabled criminals. As an illustration, we have a National Police Computer that is nearly 50 years old and is an emblem of the past rather than a cutting-edge tool of the present.”

His outline comments are part of work to set out the findings of the Strategic review of Policing, launched two years ago by the Police Foundation.

Based on three central themes: culture, capacity and capability, it is set to make 56 recommendations.

One of the issues raised during the research – and by the College of policing’s Chief Executive Andy Marsh – is the need for huge improvements in professional development, training and leadership.

The work has included every level of policing and has been welcomed by Chiefs, the Home Office and the Police Federation who are seeing it as a de facto Royal Commission.

Sir Michael Barber will outline the broad themes at a panel discussion with policing Minister Kit Malthouse and Surrey’s police and Crime Commissioner Lisa Townsend.

But part of the response will also have to come from the Home Office which will need to convince the Treasury that more resources are needed.

Ahead of the event, Kit Malthouse said: “Violence and neighbourhood crime are down, and we are making the streets safer, but I am the first to say that the fight against crime can often be a case of two steps forward and one step back. It is not a linear progression. 

“We know that crime is changing and that the future will present new challenges to policing. I thank Sir Michael for his work and I look forward to looking at this report and the recommendations once released to make sure we take the right action to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.”

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