Defence & security focus: National Crime Agency DG on its drive to be the pinnacle of law enforcement

Written by Lynne Owens on 24 April 2019 in Feature

As the UK faces increasingly complex global threats, our defence and security organisations must work more collaboratively than ever. Here, CSW hears from National Crime Agency DG Lynne Owens on its work

National Crime Agency/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

What has been the biggest challenge facing your organisation in the past 12 months?

The NCA is a non-ministerial department like no other, and leading the UK’s fight against serious and organised (SOC) crime presents unique challenges. The scale and complexity of serious and organised crime continues to evolve, with technology playing a bigger role at all levels.

We see criminals using encryption to communicate, the dark web to sell illicit items and substances, and social media to groom victims of child sexual abuse or advertise people smuggling enterprises.

My role as director general of the NCA is not only to lead the agency, but to shape the response to SOC for the whole of law enforcement. This is why I am pressing for a whole system approach, making sure we have the right capabilities in the right places across the spectrum. Given the way policing is currently funded in this country, this is a huge challenge.

“I’m tired of us being referred to as ‘Britain’s FBI’. I want the FBI to be seen as ‘America’s NCA’”

What opportunities or innovations are you excited about in the coming years that will help you improve public outcomes?

We have an opportunity to have a serious conversation about what capacity and capability is needed at a national, regional and local level. This requires a big shift in thinking from where we currently are, but in my view it would enhance our ability to protect the public.

Counter-terror capability and capacity is already split between these levels, so we know it can work, and I’m working closely with national policing leads to define organised crime requirements.

The NCA has established three key projects: the National Data Exploitation Capability (NDEC), which will significantly reduce the time taken to ingest, process and exploit data; The National Economic Crime Centre (NECC), which will help us understand the threat posed by and better respond to economic crime; and the National Assessment Centre (NAC), which will allow us to better identify and understand the threat and prioritise our operational response accordingly. These will over time benefit all of law enforcement and I’m excited to see how they develop and evolve.

How is your organisation adapting to reflect Britain’s changing place in the world?

Brexit represents another significant challenge for law enforcement and the need to maintain our ability to exchange information with partners at pace is vital to our ability to keep the public safe.

Whether that is to access conviction data of overseas nationals or share law enforcement ‘alerts’ on suspected criminals or their activities, this cooperation is vital to the fight against SOC.

The NCA delivers a number of these tools for law enforcement as a whole, as well as maintaining a significant overseas network of officers to support our work. We have reviewed the distribution of our international presence to ensure it is aligned to the SOC threats that most impact the UK. And through close engagement with our counterparts across Europe we will ensure that we have the best access to information so we can maintain our collaboration going forward.

What do you think your role will look like in 20 years’ time?

I’m certain that the nature of serious organised crime will evolve even more significantly in that timeframe.

Traditional geographic structures in policing will be even less relevant and the need to build and share across Whitehall departments, the intelligence community and law enforcement should be embedded.

My leadership role will rely on the ability to influence/negotiate. I hope the Agency is recognised as the pinnacle of law enforcement with responsibility for those functions and capabilities that are best delivered nationally. I’m tired of us being referred to as “Britain’s FBI”. I want the FBI to be seen as “America’s NCA”!

How do you unwind at the end of a long day?

Keeping work and home effectively integrated works for me. It isn’t so much about ‘balance’ but more about trying to enjoy the company of people I am with, wherever that is.

Whilst I do a serious job I try not to take myself too seriously. My husband and daughter make me laugh, I enjoy walking with our maniac springer spaniel and I run (badly) to keep things in proportion.

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Lynne Owens
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Lynne Owens is the director general of the National Crime Agency

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