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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Police 'need more e-crime skills'
Computers are used in some way or other in many crimes
The police could face a crisis unless action is taken now to improve the way they handle digital crime, says a report.

An e-crime study by the IPPR think-tank says there is a huge backlog of so-called e-crimes and a serious shortage of skills to deal with them.

If police skills are not improved, the report warns that victims of e-crime could take action into their own hands.

More liaison with industry experts is crucial, it recommends.

Vigilante crime solvers

The report also calls for a nationally recognised computer-related qualification for people across the criminal justice system, including investigators and lawyers.

We have around 140,000 police officers in the UK. And yet barely 1,000 of them have been trained to handle digital evidence at the basic level
David Harrington, report author
If police skills are not improved the study warns of increased 'vigilantism' as the public sector and individuals take the law into their own hands.

"We face a very real risk of seeing the democratically accountable policing of computer-assisted crime replaced by a combination of vigilante action and the covert privatisation of legitimate investigation," said Philip Virgo, Secretary General of EURIM, the all-party e-commerce lobby group which commissioned the study.

While the police have fewer than 1,000 officers trained in how to handle digital evidence at the most basic level, in UK private industry there are an estimated 8,000 security experts.

The study recommends closer links are forged with industry to draw on skills that the police do not have.

"We have around 140,000 police officers in the UK. And yet barely 1,000 of them have been trained to handle digital evidence at the basic level and fewer than 250 are currently with Computer Crime Units or have higher level forensic skills," said David Harrington, report author.

"No wonder we have forensics backlogs of six to 12 months and reluctance on the part of most local forces to launch any new investigation, he added.

One of the reasons for the backlog on crimes such as computer assisted extortion, fraud and impersonation is that the police have been preoccupied with the major paedophile investigation dubbed Operation Ore.

Computer analysis

In paedophile cases and others, the private sector has a crucial role to play, according to technology hothouse QinetiQ.

"Only by using qualified experts from private sector organisations like QinetiQ, experts both in training police forces and actually conducting parts of the digital investigation, can this battle against the e-criminal be won," said Neil Fisher, Director of Security Solutions.

The Skills for Justice Council has been earmarked as the body most suitable to oversee the changes needed.

The Chief Executive of the council Richard Winterton has welcomed the recommendations.

According to the police, most crimes now contain a digital element and it is increasingly common for mainstream investigations to include the handling of digital evidence, such as the analysis of computer hard drives.

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