Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found that the National Crime Agency has struggled to improve its "slow and inefficient" IT systems due to the short-term and uncertain nature of its funding – which could be detracting from the agency’s operational work.
HMICFRS said that the NCA - which also leads in tackling human, weapon and drug trafficking across regional and international borders - was focusing its investigations on the right areas in line with national security threats, and that the agency manages investigations rigorously, with effective prioritisation of its resources. But, there are concerns that officers are using personal mobile phones to obtain evidence and communicate during covert operations.
Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said: “Our inspection focused on how the NCA investigates serious organised crime and at what cost. We are satisfied that the NCA is meeting its statutory obligation in this area.
“While we found evidence of good practice, we also had concerns in some areas – including the use of personal mobile phones during covert operations, and officers not always having access to radios – which could mean they are at risk in volatile situations. The NCA has told us that it has now taken steps to rectify these issues.
Inspectors made several recommendations including that the Home Office should make it clear how much money the NCA will have for the next three years to allow the agency to invest in longer-term projects and that the NCA should consider investing in updated surveillance equipment so that officers have the quality of equipment needed to tackle the most sophisticated criminals.
Inspectors also recommended that officers do not use personal mobile phones to obtain evidence and communicate during covert operations and that all officers have access to a radio when at work or when dealing with suspects and that they should have the knowledge and confidence to use them.
“The report also recognises the drive and purpose of the NCA’s investigators in targeting the criminals causing most harm, and bringing them to justice.
“The NCA has already taken substantial action on all of the report’s recommendations, with the majority at, or close to, what we believe are points of completion.
“In line with the report’s recommendation that the NCA’s funding settlement enables investment in business planning and longer term projects, we continue to work with the Government to support its commitment to strengthening the NCA.”
The Home Office said it is committed to tackling organised crime and "doing whatever is necessary" to protect the public from harm.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "In the past year, the government have provided the NCA with £711m to lead the fight against serious and organised crime.
“We have been working closely with the NCA to develop a multi-year funding model and reduce its reliance on external funding to help the organisation become more sustainable and flexible.
“We welcome the inspectorate’s findings that the NCA manages investigations rigorously and effectively, and focuses on tackling national priority threats.”