Dee Collins: Policing must rise to challenge of internet age

Dee Collins, chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, says behind each cyber crime lies a real victim, quite often among the most vulnerable in society.
Dee Collins, chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, says behind each cyber crime lies a real victim, quite often among the most vulnerable in society.
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Cyber crime is one of the most significant threats facing us today. Victims range from the young to the old, from the individual to small and medium enterprises up to the multi-national business – if we use the internet, we are all potential targets.

The threat ranges from the relatively simple to the hugely complex, from bullying by an individual to hacking and ransomware demands which aim is to blackmail companies out of vast sums of money.

What it is crucial to remember is that behind each cyber crime lies a real victim and quite often, those victims are among the most vulnerable in society. The impact of online crime can be devastating.

The real challenge for law enforcement is the anonymity of offenders who may be in another city or another country at the other side of the world.

That may all sound scary, but it is important that everyone realises the nature and the scale of the threat we face, as the more prepared and informed we are, the more likely we are to be deter offenders. Thankfully, while it is a problem, there are steps people can take to protect themselves and their businesses.

Of course, most of us cannot imagine life without the internet, in fact many people today cannot even remember a time before it existed!

It has revolutionised the world, enabling businesses to interact and trade on a global scale much more easily. In our private lives, it allows us to speak face to face with friends and family at the other side of the world. Whole communities now exist online and the internet can often be a real lifeline and window on the outside world for those living alone.

What really fascinates me as a police officer though, is how the internet has also changed my world, providing exciting new opportunities for us to engage with our communities and enabling us to speak with the public in different ways.

The technology also allows us to adapt and investigate crime in a different way, allowing officers to be much mobile with a wealth of information at our fingertips.

Part of the National Policing Vision is that, by 2025, digital policing will make it easier and more consistent for the public to make digital contact, improve our use of digital intelligence and evidence and ensure we can transfer all material in a digital format to the criminal justice system.

West Yorkshire Police is totally committed to that principle and we are effectively harnessing modern technology in order to provide a better service to all our communities.

Our online public contact systems are leading the way, enabling us to manage multiple calls for assistance simultaneously and in a more efficient and effective way.

The number of calls we receive for assistance is immense, numbering into the thousands daily. Our online capacity means we are well placed to handle those calls and a number of forces around the country are looking to us in order to learn from this best practice.

But just as the internet is a great enabler, so there will always be those who seek to exploit it for criminal means.

It is really important therefore, that everyone plays their part in making that as difficult as possible. It starts at home with us all as individuals, but companies and internet service providers also have a role to play.

The fact is, criminals are still coming into our homes, but today they are just as likely to be doing that through our wi-fi connection as they are through the open window.

Cyber crime takes many forms. Online harassment happens to people of all ages. It is totally unacceptable and the consequences for victims can be devastating.

We and our partners in education are keen to work together to ensure young people are alive to the potential dangers. Often we underestimate how “tech savvy” our children are, but while they may possess the technical skills, they might not be quite as smart at spotting those individuals who seek to take advantage of them, perhaps by posing as someone they are not.

Online “grooming” of children is something we should all be concerned about. We wouldn’t physically let strangers into our home to speak to our children and we should be just as alive to the dangers online.

Quite rightly, the people who target youngsters in this way face heavy custodial sentences and we will do all in our power to ensure these people are caught bad brought before the courts.

I also know some people may be concerned about the danger of financial fraud. The old adage “if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is” still holds.

Always protect passwords and your banking details. Your own bank will be able to offer really good advice and there is further guidance on all manner of cybercrime on our own website.

Of course, prevention is only part of the solution. It is up to my officers and I to detect cyber crime and being those involved to justice.

That is why it is a priority for me and for the Police and Crime Commissioner.

Technology moves at an increasingly rapid pace and it is important that we keep up with developments, to stay one step ahead of those involved in targeting us online.

Dee Collins is chief constable of West Yorkshire Police.