Civilians to help ‘solve cybercrime’

Theresa MayImage copyright

New civilian recruits will help police solve cybercrime under a expansion of the role of volunteers, due to be unveiled by the home secretary.

Mrs May’s proposals are set to include a whole raft of measures to give more power to support staff and volunteers.

Forces will be able to identify volunteers who specialise in accountancy or computing for cyber and finance inquiries, she said.

She was “committed to finishing the job of police reform”, she added.

Since 1831, civilians have been able to exercise the full range of police powers in the shape of special constables.

‘Free up officers’

Those wishing to volunteer their time currently have two options – become a special, or ask to become a police support volunteer. The latter role has no powers.

But the measures – which will form part of the Policing and Crime Bill – will allow volunteers to be given powers without becoming a special constable, while also creating a core list of powers reserved for police officers.

Mrs May said: “Police officers across the country carry out a wide range of duties, keeping the public safe and ensuring justice for the most vulnerable members of society.

“We value the essential role they play, but they cannot do this on their own.

“We want to help forces to create a more flexible workforce, bring in new skills and free up officers’ time to focus on the jobs only they can carry out.”

She also said people with IT or accountancy skills were in “particular demand”, and could “work alongside police officers to investigate cyber or financial crime, and help officers and staff fight crime more widely”.

What is the role of volunteers in the police?

There are currently 16,000 volunteer police officers in England and Wales, known as special constables.

Specials undergo training, wear police uniform and have the same powers in law as their “regular” colleagues.

They take on tasks such as foot patrol, crowd control and crime prevention and have to be available for at least 16 hours each month.

In addition, there are 9,000 volunteers performing a wide variety of different staff jobs in the police.

The union Unison, which surveyed police forces last year, says Kent has the largest number of volunteers (850), while volunteers in Thames Valley put in the most hours (70,000).

The survey identified more than 60 volunteer roles, ranging from mountain rescue to animal welfare, crime scene investigation to firearms licensing.

Unison says most of the 43 forces are planning to increase their use of volunteer police staff, including Nottinghamshire, which is aiming for a fivefold rise by the end of 2015.

Mrs May’s proposals were provisionally aired last year in a consultation, which favoured creating uniformed police community support volunteers (PCSVs), and suggested civilians could carry out tasks like interviewing victims and taking witness statements.

Government officials confirmed some reforms will be taken forward, but the full details are due to be set out later.

‘More flexible’

Mr May’s measures will also confirm the abolition of the role of police traffic warden.

But BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said this was a “technical change”, reflecting the fact that – since parking enforcement was decriminalised, with local authorities taking on the role – there are now only 18 traffic wardens employed by police.

Meanwhile, forces in Hampshire and Gloucestershire have already launched a pilot scheme to attract volunteers with digital skills to support “digital investigations”.

Under Mrs May’s reforms, volunteers are expected to be given the powers to make arrests and carry out stop-and-searches.

Dave Jones, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for citizens in policing, said: “The new approach to designating police powers will help the police service be more flexible when it comes to attracting and deploying volunteers with valuable skills, especially in situations where the full powers of a constable are not necessary.

“The onus on chief constables is to use the powers wisely, ensure they fit the needs of local policing and provide appropriate training so that they help us keep our communities safe.”

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