Select committee: ‘Policing’s lack of digital capability is now a systemic problem’

MPs on the Home Affairs Committee have called for more funding and leadership after publishing damning appraisal


Credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

MPs have claimed that a “lack of digital capability is now a systemic problem” blighting police forces across the country.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee has published a report warning of “dire consequences for public” unless policing is given a funding boost by the government’s upcoming Budget and Spending Review.

But, in the case of technology systems and expertise, it is not money that is the primary problem for officers, but rather “a complete lack of coordination and leadership on upgrading technology over many years”. This issue must be addressed by central government, the committee said.

“The Home Office needs to show national leadership on technology, making it a clear and stated aim to unify all police databases and communications systems, according to a clear timetable, with requirements on forces,” MPs said. “It must develop plans for a National Digital Exploitation Centre for serious crime, similar to the model for counter terrorism policing.”

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The cross-party group of MPs also warned that falling staff numbers, outdated technology and a “complete failure” of Whitehall leadership had left forces unable to keep up with the changing nature of crime – particularly online offences. Government has been urged them to conduct a “root-and-branch” review of policing.

The committee raised specific concerns about the rise of online child abuse, calling for a new Commissioner to deal with the huge increase in the sharing of child pornography for which only one arrest is made for every ten recorded incidents.

Tory MP Tim Loughton, who sits on the committee, said the numbers were “unacceptable”.

“We found that the police are bringing a shockingly low number of charges for the possession of child abuse images, even though they are recording tens of thousands of offences,” he said. “Whatever the cause, it is unacceptable that children are being put at risk by the collective failure to get a grip on this problem. Our report calls for a comprehensive strategy to address CSA (child sexual abuse) online, led by the Home Office, including action to improve police capabilities in this area.”

The report also found that Action Fraud – the national organisation for reporting cybercrime and other fraud – has “irretrievably lost the confidence of the public, and reasonable expectations from victims are not being met”. The committee said that, while having a centralised fraud-reporting function makes sense, the existing Action Fraud operation needs to be better supported “by a proper system to investigate crimes and respond to victims”.

Sam Trendall

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