Police bosses should be able to fire officers with inadequate IT skills

Police chiefs should be given the power to fire officers whose IT skills are not up to scratch, a new report suggests.

Police chiefs should be given the power to fire officers
Police chiefs should be given the power to fire officers

Think tank Reform emphasised the need for forces to reshape their workforces in the face of surging levels of cyber crime.

The current inability to make officers redundant "hamstrings" police leaders, the paper argues.

It says: "Senior managers, officers and staff argued that the ability to fire officers without the necessary skills would allow chiefs to get the skill base to meet digital demand and shift culture."

In 2012 a major review of police pay and conditions recommended the introduction of a system of compulsory severance.

But the proposal was not taken forward, meaning officers kept the right to a job for life.

The new study from Reform, published on Wednesday, calls for the issue to be revisited.

Alexander Hitchcock, co-author of the report, said: "Chiefs should have the ability to make officers redundant if officers' roles have changed because of digital crime, and officers have not been able to develop the IT skills to fill these roles.

"But this will be a small minority of officers. We are arguing that forces should give officers every chance to develop IT skills through apps and university partnerships, as well as have the equipment to help them meet digital demand."

He added: "As people live more of their lives online, they need confidence that the police will help them do this securely.

"Bobbies urgently need the technology, skills and confidence to patrol an online beat."

Official figures indicate that almost half of crime (47%) is either dependent on or enabled by technology, according to the think tank.

It warned that the internet has "amplified" some high-volume offences, with people now 20 times more likely to fall victim to fraud than robbery.

Statistics also show that forces in England and Wales logged nearly 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment in 2016/17.

The report raises questions over whether the service is equipped to tackle cyber-related crime.

"As one force leader interviewed for this paper explained, officers and staff are 'terrified' by digital threats to new technology and the use of technology to commit crime," it says.

Forces should focus on social networks as part of their response, the study recommends, citing a watchdog report which quoted an officer as saying: "I do not have a computer; what do I know about Facebook?"

The assessment outlines the potential improvements that could be yielded from technological developments such as using smartphones to collect fingerprints or "augmented reality" to identify important pieces of evidence at crime scenes.

Reform's blueprint also calls for: forces to recruit 12,000 IT expert volunteers; ministers to invest £450 million a year in new police technology; the creation of a digital academy to train specialist officers in emerging crime-fighting techniques; and a reduction in the number of police ranks from nine to five.

Simon Kempton, lead on cyber crime for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said regulations already allow for the dismissal of under-performing officers through "clearly defined processes".

He added: "Policing requires a broad base of expertise and to simply dismiss officers who are less conversant with the digital world, rather than giving them proper training, is to treat with absolute contempt those who are prepared to sacrifice everything for the public they serve."

The Home Office said it wants a "flexible, capable and professional" police workforce "that can adapt to the changing nature of crime".