Publication Digital Justice 22 August, 2017

Bobbies on the net: a police workforce for the digital age

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As crime changes, police forces must respond. Technological developments in recent decades – most notably the growth of the internet – have digitised traditional forms of crime, providing new opportunities for fraudsters, sex offenders and drug dealers. Technology also creates a new frontline of crime, which previously would not have existed. The implications of the fourth industrial revolution are yet to be fully understood. Today, almost half of crime relies on digital technology, and that is likely to rise.

Law-enforcement agencies must address this demand. Some will be met by central agencies, including the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), but much will be addressed by the 43 police forces across England and Wales. The greatest assets forces possess are the 198,684 officers and staff they employ.

This paper focuses on whether this workforce is currently fit to meet digital demand. Reform conducted interviews with over 40 police officers, staff, government officials and experts, visited five forces, held a focus group, and analysed public data.

The report finds that a range of changes are required to make forces fit to fight digital crime. Different parts of the workforce will need to change in different ways.

Nevertheless, the whole workforce requires better equipment, a better understanding of digital demand and crime-fighting techniques, and new (less-hierarchical) working patterns. Police forces should make better use of secondments, and introduce on-demand cyber-volunteer units to help fight the most sophisticated crime, such as cyber-attacks.


  • 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. Government should set one of the public-policy challenges in its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund as reducing crime, and invest in innovative new policing technology companies as part of the Industrial Strategy.
  • Police forces should use competitive procurement channels, such as the Digital Marketplace, to get value for money when purchasing new technology.
  • Forces should work with the National Police Chiefs Council to extend force-management statements setting out how to meet demand in 15 years or more. Forces should create skills heatmaps to understand the skills available to meet this demand.
  • Forces should improve digital understanding through learning apps and offline training.
  • The Home Office should create a digital academy to train cyber specialists, graduating around 1,700 police officers and staff a year.
  • Police forces should aim to increase secondment numbers – seconding up to an extra 1,500 officers and staff.
  • Law-enforcement agencies should seek to increase the number of cyber volunteers to 12,000 from 40, in part by offering more dynamic volunteering opportunities.
  • The Government should implement Sir Tom Winsor’s 2012 recommendation to introduce a system of compulsory severance for all police officers, and to further allow force leaders to make officers redundant if they are underperforming.
  • Forces should have fewer than eight ranks, with five likely to be the optimum.
  • The Home Office should organise an annual hackathon-style convention to provide space for police forces to join national bodies and other experts in developing approaches to meeting the new frontline of crime.