It was honest of Sarah Thornton to suggest that the traditional approach of sending a police officer to the scene of every crime, after the event, may need to become a thing of the past.
As Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council and former Chief Constable of Thames Valley she speaks from experience and should not be dismissed just because what she has to say doesn’t go down well with the chattering classes. She recognised that the steep growth in cyber-crime is going to force the police to reallocate limited resources to fight it. Different priorities will need to be made and policing will need to revolutionise the training of cyber-skills. This certainly provoked a negative reaction from the media.
The old adage used to run thus: “Why do people rob banks? Because that’s where the money is!” Well it isn’t any more and, today, bank robberies are down by about 80% because modern criminals can avoid the considerable risk of getting caught when they turn up with a shot-gun, by swapping their methodology. From the relative safety of their own homes, modern criminals can use a laptop to access people’s money and steal it without stepping out of the house. Similarly, house burglaries have fallen by 30% because it stands to reason that it’s easier to steal people’s assets digitally than physically and the chance of getting caught is considerably reduced.
For some time the police have been aware that they need to improve their technical skills in order to meet the wave of cyber-crime that the modern world faces. From senior officers to the bobby on the beat, cyber-skills and an understanding of how cyber-crime works is essential if the police are to do their jobs effectively.
Unfortunately, they are under a great deal of financial pressure. As one of the unprotected government departments the Home Office has to find 20% savings on top of the 20% they have already managed to find over the last five years. At the same time, there is a desire from the public for them to take on more police officers and continue to reduce crime.
The efficacy of the police service over recent years has been very impressive under difficult circumstances. However that record will come into question as cyber-crime grows, both in reality and public perception. It is currently believed that the majority of cyber-crime goes unreported. Individuals inform their bank if they believe their on-line account has been compromised or their bank cards cloned. These events are dealt with by well established banking procedures. However, there is no obligation on the banks to report these breaches to the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Financial Conduct Authority or similar authorities. Under the new EU regulations on the horizon, this may well become obligatory. Not just for financial institutions but all companies should expect to be subject to breach notification legislation in the near future.
Apart from financial crime, there are also many other serious issues, such as child safety on line, terrorism, social media abuses, on-line fraud and property crime. When the true extent of the many different crimes that are cyber-enabled becomes known, the public will demand to know what the police are doing about it. In truth, they are already behind the curve in adapting the force to tackle cyber-crime. There is a mountain to climb in terms of training new recruits, let alone retrospectively training the older, less technical, existing work force.
I am told that the combined police forces of England and Wales are engaged in a national cyber-crime education programme, which will launch this autumn. This is to be welcomed, as is any step towards equipping a modern police force to tackle today’s crimes. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Commissioner for the Metropolitan police, has confirmed that he will still send police to the scene of all house burglaries in London. In Leicester, on the other hand, they are piloting a scheme whereby the police only respond to burglaries at houses with even numbers, to see whether this has an impact on the statistics for successful crime resolution. If extended to the Metropolitan police this would mean that the Prime Minister gets a rapid response from the bobby standing outside his front door, but the same policeman couldn’t do anything for the Chancellor because he lives at number eleven!
Let us watch the space to see what the national programme looks like when it’s launched and hope that more budget can be found for helping the police to fight cyber-crime.