A number of police forces in England and Wales are still “in the starting blocks” in building an effective response to the growing danger of cyber-crime, according to a watchdog’s study.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary says offences involving modern technology are now so common-place that it is “outdated, inappropriate, and wrong” for the nation’s 43 police forces to leave it to specialist officers to investigate.
After speaking to several victims of cyber-crime to carry out its study, published today, HMIC said victims still do not consider police as the first port of call in such situations and were often not dealt with properly when they reported the offences.
The study’s authors found cases “where victims welcomed the sensitivity and understanding of the officers concerned”, whilst in others the reaction of police was described as “indefensible” or “wrong and dangerous”.
HMIC looked at the information on digital crime gathered by the six police forces they studied and found that little had been obtained, meaning some forces “have developed responses based on professional judgement”.
It said: “As a consequence, those forces are now some way along their journey of building an effective response, while others remain ‘in the starting blocks’.”
The watchdog spoke to six police forces and several advisory bodies to produce its study into cyber-crime, as well as carrying out “in-depth interviews with victims of digital crime so that their stories may be told”.
One woman, described in the study as Jane, a 58-year-old nurse, said she felt emotionally and financially “violated” after falling victim to a ‘romance fraud’, where she transferred money to a man she met online.
But she was left frustrated after calling the police only be told to contact national agency Action Fraud, who then passed the investigation onto another force.
She said: “As a result of my experience, I felt violated, both emotionally as well as financially. After it happened, it occurred to me that, had I been robbed/burgled in the accepted sense, I would have been visited and questioned by someone.
“Because it was over the internet, with no hard evidence/finger prints, etc., my complaint was as invisible as the person who had stolen from me – more so because the hard evidence I did have was of no interest to anyone.
“Ultimately I think I have been left realising what I already acknowledged, namely that the emotional damage is as important, if not more so, than the financial. That is what the police need to recognise. I lost some money but emotionally the scars are a lot deeper.”
In Yorkshire, local forces have recently acknowledged the growing threat of cyber-crime by establishing their own specialist units to tackle the problem.
West Yorkshire Police’s unit, based in Carr Gate, Wakefield, will also provide support to other criminal investigations by using specialist technology and computer software, while North Yorkshire Police launched its team in 2014 as part of its ten-year plan.
HMIC says that in 2013, 36 million adults in Great Britain accessed the internet every day, 20 million more than in 2006 when directly comparable records began. Only a small fraction of the millions of offences carried out using computers or the internet are reported to police.
It said every police officer “must be equipped to provide victims of digital crime with the help and support that they have a right to expect from those charged with the duty to protect them”.
It said an online training package was provided for specialist and non-specialist staff, but that some officers complained about poor equipment and not having enough time to do it.
Funding from the Home Office for some of the training stopped in April, leaving chief constables with “hard decisions” about what should be paid for locally.