The government should create a digital academy to train specialist cyber-police officers, and increase the number of volunteers with these skills, according to a new report highlighting the current dearth of IT skills in the police force.
Thinktank Reform spoke to 40 police officers, staff, government officials and experts; visited five forces; held a focus group; and analyzed public data to compile its report, Bobbies on the net: a police workforce for the digital age.
It claimed that a range of major changes are needed to ensure that the 43 forces of England and Wales are fit to fight online crime, including better equipment, training, new crime-fighting techniques and less hierarchical working patterns.
It urged current forces to improve the digital understanding of officers through learning apps and offline training, with force leaders given the power to sack those that underperform.
To further plug the skills gap it recommended secondments for an extra 1500 staff each year, and an annual “hackathon” type event where police can join experts to work out new ways to fight cybercrime.
However, perhaps the biggest changes to current practices would come with a recommended digital academy capable of graduating 1700 officers and staff each year, and a new approach to volunteers that would see an increase in the current 40 to 12,000.
It’s not all about skills: the report also claimed forces should look to digital markets to get value for money in procuring new tech, and that the Home Office should create a new police digital capital grant to invest in digital infrastructure, worth around £450m per year.
The funding for the latter can come from Whitehall savings, Reform claimed.
David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, agreed it’s important that police have the requisite skills to fight an increasingly agile and determined online enemy.
“However the police, like any organization, need a diverse range of skills; and it may be that not all roles require technical knowledge and IT acumen,” he added.
“The focus for police forces, like any other organization, should be on ongoing education and upskilling existing staff. Many industries are suffering from a lack of technology skills, and this can only be remedied by increasing internal awareness and by encouraging young people with a passion for cybersecurity to use their skills for the greater good.”