‘Policing is not set up for a world in which so much crime is committed online’

Major review of police across England and Wales finds forces are ill-equipped to cope with the huge rise in recent years of cyber offences

Credit: Postldf/CC BY-SA 3.0

A major review of policing across England and Wales has concluded that a “radical rethink” is needed to enable forces to operate in a world in which almost half of all crimes are committed online.

Initial findings of the Strategic Review of Policing report from think the Police Foundation were published today. 

The study, led by former Downing Street adviser Sir Michael Barber, found that cybercrime and fraud have “increased rapidly” in recent years and constituted 44% of all offences committed in England and Wales last year.

Online child sexual abuse is one area that has seen a sharp rise, the review claimed, with 8.3 million images being added to the UK Child Abuse Image Database between 2015 and 2019.

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These increases have come while all other forms of crime have collectively dropped by 70% since 1995. Violent crime has dropped 72% in that time, the review said, while burglary and vehicle theft have shrunk 74% and 79%, respectively.

But instances of some offences have risen dramatically; reports of domestic abuse increased by 77% between 2016 and 2019, while stalking and harassment crimes have grown ninefold since 2012. Rapes increased 260% between 2013 and 2019 and child sexual offences trebled during a similar timeframe.

Police are also “now called to many more incidents involving multiply disadvantaged people”, including a rise in callouts related to missing people or those with mental-health issues.

Investigations of more complex crimes often face “up to six months’ wait for examinations of digital evidence” – a problem that is compounded by a shortfall of 5,000 detectives across the country.

The overall result of these changes to the crime landscape is a police force that is left using “operating model that was built for a different time”, Barber said.

“Whereas in the past the police could deal relatively straightforwardly with bringing offenders to justice they are now presented with a variety of problems, many of which require a social rather than a criminal justice solution and most of which cannot be tackled by a single agency but require extensive collaboration,” he added.

“Cybercrime affects millions of people every year and yet policing is not set up to deal with a world in which so much crime is committed online rather than in the public street.  The scale and complexity of these challenges mean we need to think radically about the role the police play, how they work with others, the skills they require and the way the police service is organized.”

The second stage of the review, which will continue into next year, will culminate in the publication of a report that outlines the reform measures needed.

The review was funded by auditor Deloitte, outsourcing firm CGI, and the Dawes Trust – a charity dedicated to crime prevention.


Sam Trendall

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