Six things the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Strategy should address

By Johnny Gilbert

The UK government’s National Security Capability Review(NSCR) prioritised serious and organised crime (SOC) alongside defence, counter-terrorism and cyber security. This has created a newfound confidence and ambition for the UK’s response to SOC, and changes are already underway to reflect this increased focus. The Home Office will have a new DG-level Serious Organised and Economic Crime Command this year. And the National Crime Agency (NCA) is working more closely with partner organisations to tackle the illicit finance that underpins all SOC by leading a new National Economic Crime Centre.

But this is just the start. Off the back of the NSCR, work is ongoing across Government to develop a reenergised SOC Strategy for the UK. We expect it to transform the collective response to crimes that affect the UK’s prosperity or target the most vulnerable in our society.

Given our unique position working with public and private organisations in the sector, we believe there are six things this strategy should address:

1.     Define a ‘Whole System’ approach

The SOC Strategy will need to place explicit expectations on wider government and private sector stakeholders, and develop the capabilities needed to enable effective joint working.

The NSCR emphasised the need for a ‘Whole System’ approach, so the SOC Strategy needs to include stakeholders beyond the traditional law enforcement community. It will need to outline new governance and tasking arrangements for established contributors and embrace wider government (such as health and education) and industry partners (such as internet companies and banks).

The NCA already works with partners such as HMRC to identify tax withholdings and issue distraint orders to disrupt criminal organisations, and there are opportunities to exploit private-sector capabilities better. For example, artificial intelligence (AI) would help detect and disrupt criminal groups. But this will need investment to improve data sharing, agree common design principles and align priorities and responses.

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2.     The regional and local policing perspective

National, regional and local policing structures are well-established, but the landscape is inconsistent and efficiencies are missed.

Policing has traditionally tackled SOC at national, regional and local levels but has struggled to bring all three together effectively – with the regional tier often the sticking point. The new SOC Strategy should examine regional demand and design a modern delivery model that optimises data, skills, resources and facilities to improve capacity and resilience. This might include clearer definitions of roles and a stronger emphasis on national capabilities such as large-scale data exploitation.

Redesigning the regional policing model will also create mechanisms for coordinating national initiatives with local delivery, tailoring them to each region. At the same time, the ‘Whole System’ approach will need local police forces to work differently with the private sector.

3.     Building an effective international response

An effective strategic response needs an international effort that shares knowledge and makes the most of partner nations’ capabilities.

Countering SOC is a global challenge that needs international effort. With weapons, drugs, people and money flowing between countries, and cyber criminals offending thousands of miles away from their victims, there’s a growing international appetite to collaborate. And the UK’s reputation and capability means we’re ideally placed to play a leading role.

Initiatives such as the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime show progress in this area. But the SOC Strategy should ensure the international response puts the same emphasis on preventing crime as it does on pursuing criminals and dealing with the consequences. It will take a significant effort to develop mutually beneficial partnerships, especially given Brexit-related uncertainty.

4.     Legislative change

The US Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act gives UK law enforcement prompt access to electronic data held by US communication service providers (CSPs). But to benefit, Government must investment in people and technology.

The US CLOUD Act is designed to help law enforcement combat serious crime and terrorism, both in the US and among its allies. It will enable US CSPs, such as Facebook and Google, to respond much faster to UK requests for data when it’s proportionate to do so.

This represents a ground-breaking change in international co-operation. The SOC Strategy should focus investment on ensuring the right operating model and training is in place for officers to use these new powers.

5.     Digital disruption of the criminal marketplace

Technological advances enable enhanced responses to SOC threats, but they’re also helping criminals. Collaboration with technology and social media companies will be key to staying ahead.

The digital trends that are disrupting legitimate economies are also causing changes in the criminal marketplace. For example, the scale of cybercrime and online child sexual exploitation is escalating due to the ubiquity of mobile devices, high-speed internet access and military-grade encryption. Technology aids offenders by giving unprecedented access to victims, with criminals exploiting ‘digital safe havens’ and ‘on demand’ access to victims.

The SOC Strategy should emphasise investment that helps law enforcement develop the ability to find and counter digital SOC threats. This includes harnessing AI to manage the ever-increasing volumes of data accumulated in criminal investigations.

6.     Impact on people and culture

The SOC Strategy should look at how to modernise recruitment, learning and development to meet these new challenges.

Keeping pace with change needs a more adaptable workforce, with transferrable skills and flexible roles that can adapt to evolving threats. There should be fewer specialist staff working on single threat areas and more generalists whose skills suit a range of challenges. This places new requirements on managers to ensure their teams’ skills and experience keep pace with changing goals.

Meanwhile, the focus on developing a ‘Whole System’ approach will need people with compatible skills and qualifications to support greater interoperability between organisations. With growing public awareness of the SOC threat, there’s also an opportunity to improve the mix of talent and experience by boosting external recruitment and secondments while accelerating the development of ‘home grown’ talent.

The 2018 refresh of the UK’s SOC Strategy will transform the entire system, from local police forces to industry and international partners. The challenge now will be to align the expectations and capabilities of a diverse stakeholder community. Getting this right will show how changes in legislation, technology and people will keep the UK safe from serious and organised crime.

About the authors

Johnny Gilbert Defence and security expert Johnny works with clients to deliver operational improvements across the Defence and Security sector

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