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Police funding cuts let violent predatory men into the service. The growing threat of cybercrime...

...adds yet more pressure

Here's my latest article in the Scotsman, published on 24th April 2023.

A few weeks ago I was pleased to be invited to an FBI Academy retraining session held in Edinburgh.

It’s a long time since I studied at the famous academy at Quantico, so it was interesting to be among serving and retired officers who had all attended the academy at one time. As always, the FBI staff hosting the event were gracious and candid as they set out the challenges facing global law enforcement from their perspective.

When I first attended the academy over 30 years ago, the talk was all about DNA. How would law enforcement utilise this new science? What were the threats and opportunities of this brilliant new investigative tool? As it turned out, the carefully managed use of this new strand of forensic science has been revolutionary, doing much to deliver justice and, just as importantly, protect the innocent.

All history now, of course, for the new threat is cybercrime, and the whole training session was spent discussing how policing would meet this growing challenge. Our data, it seems, is now our most precious and vulnerable possession. Whether it’s on the macro scale of state secrets or the micro, our personal information, it seems organised crime is out to steal it.

And just like other precious possessions, our data needs protected from fraud, theft, and impersonation. The bad news is that, for the most part, our personal data is lamentably unprotected. It seems many of us are leaving the back door open, unaware or unable to protect ourselves.

The recent estimate that half of all crime is committed online is likely to be an underestimate, for much probably goes unreported. For their part, police forces throughout the UK are trying to catch up, and are investing heavily in the highly specialised business of investigating cybercrime. It’s a tricky task, which not all are suited for, made more complex by the fact that many of the perpetrators operate from abroad, some sheltered by hostile foreign states.

It’s the latest challenge for 21st-century policing, which wouldn’t be so bad if all the other old challenges weren’t still alive and causing trouble. This brings us to an old conundrum. How do we take on new challenges with fewer resources, how do we do more with less? The most recent figures show that we now have 900 fewer police officers than ten years ago when Police Scotland was formed.

There are real dangers lurking here. For at the same time as the threat of cybercrime is growing, there are real concerns about the lack of community policing, and the dangerous results of cutting administrative corners.

Make no mistake, the present problems besetting the Metropolitan Police and other forces in England all stem from poor selection and supervision of junior officers. The reduction of these ‘administrative’ or back-room functions has rebounded with awful consequences, allowing some violent predatory men into the police service.

It would be foolish to think that we are immune to these dangers in Scotland. Our police service is meeting the new demands with fewer resources than ever. The elastic will only stretch so far – something’s got to give.

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