Richard Thwaite

Managing Partner, Central Government and Partnerships

  • Infrastructure Transformation
  • Change Management

– 31 Jul, 2019

20,000 more police officers – what will it take to make this more than a populist gimmick?

In today’s world, fighting crime requires a technological arsenal and a range of technical support capabilities, as well as boots on the ground.

Opinion Piece by Richard Thwaite, Managing Partner

Crime crosses local and national police force boundaries, and every crime has a digital footprint – indeed many only have a digital footprint. So, if the UK does indeed intend to add 20,000 police officers onto ‘the streets’ to fight crime, we need to ask ourselves 2 key questions:

  1. Where are ‘the streets’ where crime is occurring? Are they physical or virtual streets?
  2. What technology is needed to ensure they can prevent crime and arrest criminals, in addition to the officers themselves?

Let’s start with the first question: Where is crime occurring?

The statistics tell us that 42% of reported crimes1 are committed online.

Whilst ‘boots on the ground’ will be essential when suspects need to be arrested, charged and placed in custody, the majority of the investigation work that leads to the arrests for online crimes will occur in an office environment behind the scenes, led by cyber and data analytics specialists.

Meanwhile newspaper headlines focus on the recent increase in violent crime, driven by organised crime gangs operating ‘county lines’ drug cartels.

However, this violence is a symptom – the cause is multi-faceted and complex involving social care, health, drug use, poverty and much more. And to tackle these issues requires more investment in areas other than policing.

But if we focus on policing requirements in this space, it is evident that the kind of resources needed by the police are skilled investigators – trained in covert techniques, communications, data interception and analysis – rather than uniformed officers patrolling streets carrying out ‘stop and search’ (although that is clearly a tool that will continue to be required).

The added resources proposed by the government will provide a small measure of improvement but will not fundamentally solve the problem as it stands, given today’s current threats and criminality which needs investment in cyber and data specialists and associated tools.

Now let’s look at the second question: What technology is needed?

Here we quickly realise that in order to achieve the Digital Policing ambition that the National Police Chiefs Council has advocated as part of its Policing Vision 20252, then a huge investment in upgrading both the National and Local Policing systems is essential.

The current environment is outdated and disjointed, with little ability to share data effectively or in a timely manner across the various law enforcement agencies, as documented in last year’s Home Affairs Select Committee report on Policing Futures3.

To achieve this, it is imperative that significant investment (£2 – 3 billion over 3 years) is made in back-end technology. This ensures that any newly recruited officers will have the tools and technology available to them so that they are able to drive down the crime rates, otherwise they risk being asked to do the equivalent of tackling an armed robber with their bare hands.

Whilst it is undoubtedly good news that the new Prime Minister and Home Secretary recognise the value of additional funding for the Police Service, unless they are willing to ensure the necessary targeted investment on more sophisticated joined-up digital tools, skills and technology – in addition to the cost of salaries for the 20,000 officers – then the fear is that it will be seen as an exercise in short-term headline-grabbing rather than a genuine attempt to address the real problems of serious and on-line crime that exist.

Footnotes

1. ONS Crime Survey for England and Wales (April 2019)
2. Policing Vision 2025 – NPCC (November 2016)
3. Policing for the Future – Home Affairs Committee (October 2018)

Chaucer provides digital & data transformation support and advice to the Home Office, National Police Chiefs Council, the Association of Police & Crime Commissioners and police forces. A Home Office advisor since July 2015, Richard Thwaite was CIO of the Metropolitan Police Service from 2013 – 2015. Please feel free to get in touch with him to discuss this article or to find out more about the role of technology in policing.

Richard Thwaite

Managing Partner, Central Government and Partnerships

Richard spent 21 years at Ford Motor Co and was the CIO for Ford of Europe for over five years. In a later move to UBS, Richard worked five years as CIO of the Global Asset Management Division. More recently, Richard was CIO for the Metropolitan Police Service in London for 2 years where he helped transform their Technology strategy and implement tablet devices for front-line officers to record crime and witness statements. He is currently leading the Home Office’s Law Enforcement Landscape Mapping team providing oversight for 16 National Policing Technology programmes. In 2018 he was awarded ‘Highly Commended’ in the Management Consultants Association Digital and Technology Consultant of the Year awards.

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