The Home Office should invest £450m a year in police technology to combat the growing wave of digital crime, according to the think tank Reform.
A report today called for the creation of a £450m police digital capital grant, and a digital academy to train 1,700 police officers and staff each year as cyber specialists.
The grant would be funded by savings created by accelerating Whitehall’s automation agenda, which Reform claims will save government £2.6bn a year. The Cabinet Office has already stated its aim to accelerate the use of robotic process automation technology by central government departments and agencies.
The report also argued the Home Office should better target its £175m Police Transformation Fund on “genuinely transformational technology”, and that police forces can use centralised online procurement channels to get better value for money from technology vendors.
This could be similar to the Cabinet Office’s Digital Marketplace, which is designed to provide a single place for the public sector to access and buy IT commodities.
Commenting on the report, co-author and Reform researcher Emilie Sundorph said the growth in digital crime was putting pressure on police forces.
“Almost half of crime now is enabled by technology,” she said. “You’re more than 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than of robbery.”
According to statistics from the National Cyber Security Centre and National Crime Agency, 47% of crime in the year to September 2016 was cyber-dependent or cyber-enabled. The total number of criminal offences in England and Wales almost doubled in January, after cyber crimes were officially added to the annual crime survey.
The second co-author, Reform senior researcher Alexander Hitchcock, said many police officers were already deploying technology to great effect. Body-worn cameras have reduced complaints against police forces by 93%, while smartphone use has enabled frontline officers to gain access to real-time information, he said.
But staff realise there is a “need to use a next generation of technology to meet future demand”, he added, citing on-the-spot collection of fingerprints as an example.
“All 200,000 officers and staff need the skills to be able to understand digital threats and to be able to use basic technology,” he said.
As well as the digital academy, the report said police forces should recruit more volunteer tech experts from the private sector, organise an annual tech hackathon, and boost the number secondments to 1,500 a year.
Secondments have dropped 82% over the past two decades, but they “are a valuable way for officers and staff to develop specialist digital skills – and may improve relations between the technology world and the UK government”, the report stated.
Controversially, it also calls for the introduction of a system of compulsory severance for under-performing police officers, including those with limited IT skills, in line with the 2012 recommendations on police reforms by former chief inspector of constabulary Tom Winsor.
The report, which looks at whether the UK’s police workforce is fit to meet digital demand, also lamented the use of siloed, legacy IT systems by many forces, and problems with data sharing between public services.
The report, Bobbies on the net: a police workforce for the digital age, is based on interviews with police officers, staff, government officials and experts, visits to five forces, a focus group, and analysis of public data.