Digital skills academies and “cyber bungalows” would go a long wayby Emilie Sundorph / August 23, 2017 / Leave a comment
The internet was never going to be simple to police. The Crown Prosecution Service highlighted the severity of digital crimes this week as it launched a new crackdown. As police forces grapple with this new frontline of crime, they will need the digital skills to cope.
Almost half of crime is committed online. People are now 20 times more likely to be victims of fraud than robbery, most of which is committed online. 30,000 cases of online harassment and stalking were recorded in the past year. Anonymous dark web browsers offer platforms for drug dealing and the sharing of “revenge pornography.”
Research published by Reform today reveals that many officers are “terrified” by this digital crime, feeling they lack the knowledge and skills to tackle it. Police forces must focus on fostering the skills needed to meet digital demand.
All 198,000 officers and staff in English and Welsh police forces need basic digital skills. Some officers have never used social media. Training apps, tested successfully by the US army, could improve basic skills. In the UK, Durham Constabulary has created a “cyber bungalow” where officers can learn how to capture digital evidence. More of this is needed.
Others will need specialist skills. One way to do this is through a digital skills academy, similar to the one run by Government Digital Services, training 3,000 Whitehall civil servants every year. Mirroring this success, police would annually train 1,700 officers and staff in more sophisticated technical skills. To do so, the police should seek sponsorship from large tech companies. Microsoft is currently working with other governments to develop cyber defence skills, and social media companies have an interest in combating criminality on their platforms.
Specialist officers should gain further experience through secondments, particularly in partnership with tech companies like Twitter. These should offer opportunities to hone digital skills, such as using social networks to uncover hidden crime, or creating algorithms that can help predict crime. Worryingly, secondment numbers for the police have fallen 80 per cent in two decades, but returning to mid-nineties levels would see forces second 1,900 employees a year.
The police should tap into the expertise of other digital specialists too. More than 13,000 people regularly volunteer with police forces, dedicating at least 16 hours per month as special constables. Currently, only 40 of these are cyber experts. This represents a missed opportunity. A volunteer in a UK force built a piece of code to crack an app in just one morning. Police forces should mirror efforts in Estonia and recruit 1 per cent of digital specialists in the UK as volunteers. This would translate to 12,000 volunteer experts.
Learning from these approaches to deliver a workforce fit to fight cybercrime should be the priority for the police. Achieving this will not be simple, but it is essential to protect people online.
Reform’s report, Bobbies on the net, is available at www.reform.uk