Think tank calls for heavy funding for digital tech in policing

Reform report urges Home Office to provide £450 million per year along with organisational changes to deal with new types of crime

The Home Office has been urged to make £450 million per year available for digital tech in policing, set up a digital academy and make more use of cyber volunteers.

Policeman's eyes under helmetThink tank Reform has called for the measures as part of an effort to improve the digital capabilities in policing and produce serious savings among police forces, which it has previously calculated could amount to £2.6 billion per year.

Its new report, Bobbies on the net: a police workforce for the digital age, focuses on how technology developments have affected crime and the way that police work against it over recent decades. It says that almost half of crime now relates to digital technology and the law enforcement agencies have to deal with the demand.

Some measures can be taken by central agencies such as the National Crime Agency, but much of the responsbility will come back to the 43 police forces across England and Wales. In turn, this requires their officers to take new approaches using technology.

Need for specialists

It says all officers and staff could use technology more to deal with traditional crime, but there should also be specialists responding to crimes that use technology and create threats in new areas. Also, elite officers and staff should be sharing ideas between forces and working in ‘skunkworks’ – small and loosely structured groups developing innovative projects – to deal with complex crimes that would not exist without the internet.

The report makes a series of recommendations that include:

  • The Home Office should create a new police digital capital grant to invest in digital infrastructure, worth around £450 million per annum, with funding coming from savings from accelerating Whitehall’s automation agenda. In addition, the Government should make reducing crime one of the public-policy challenges in its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and invest in innovative new policing technology companies as part of the industrial strategy.
  • The Home Office should create a digital academy to train cyber specialists, graduating around 1,700 police officers and staff per year.
  • Law enforcement agencies should seek to increase the number of cyber volunteers from 40 to 12,000, in part by offering more dynamic volunteering opportunities.
  • Police forces should improve digital understanding through learning apps and offline training.

It also calls for organisational changes such as the reduction of the number of ranks in police forces from nine to five, the ability to make officers redundant if they are under-performing, and work between forces and the National Police Chiefs Council to set out how to meet demand in the next 15 years.

Greatest assets

“The greatest assets forces possess are the 198,684 officers and staff they employ,” the report says. “Providing officers and staff with the technology, skills and support to meet digital demand is both the greatest challenge and opportunity for policing today and in the future.”

Late last year IT industry association techUK called on police forces to increase their tech capabilities in its Digital Policing review. This placed an emphasis on training, a toolkit and a framework for bringing in external skills.

Image by Southbanksteve, CC BY 2.0 through Wikimedia