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DS Cashmore
DS Cashmore investigates - his workload has doubled in the past year
Cyber-beat banner

The government has promised more money for tackling computer-related crime. But there is still concern in some police forces about their ability to tackle the growth of cybercrime.

In Devizes, at the headquarters of Wiltshire Police, the computer crime unit consists of just two officers. The size of their task can be seen in a storeroom along the corridor. The shelves are full of PCs, all bearing evidence labels, waiting either for examination, or to be produced as exhibits in court cases.

In the past 12 months, the unit's workload has doubled, and is likely to continue growing at a similar rate.

Today, Detective Sergeant Tom Cashmore is removing the hard drive from what appears to be an ordinary domestic PC. It has been seized by officers working on a pornography case, but they need evidence to support a prosecution.

Investigations into pornography and paedophilia take up a lot of the unit's time, but they have also helped in cases involving theft, fraud and murder.

"The wealth of material that is put on computers nowadays offers us a great resource to assist in the investigation of offences," says Sgt Cashmore.

"In certain circumstances, material is unrecoverable, but at the minute, we are running on a success rate of 80%."

Sgt Cashmore says that individuals should take precautions to protect their computers by using virus checkers and firewall software, but should not get the risk out of proportion.

"It is the same as locking a front door," he says. "If you take reasonable precautions you are adding some form of safety to protect your property and your valuables.

"The data that you've got on your computer is a valuable commodity to you, and there are records you may have on your computer, financial affairs, accounts, which you wouldn't want to fall into the hands of other people."

'Everybody is at risk'

Sgt Cashmore says one concern is the way in which paedophiles use internet chat rooms to make contact with children. User groups are a way for offenders to exchange pictures, and arrange meetings.

The head of Wiltshire's fraud squad, Detective Inspector Paul Ginger, says the government needs to do more to raise public awareness of the threat from computer-related crime.

"Everybody is at risk, and I do not believe that people are aware of how easy it is to become a victim," he says.

"People can use internet providers or servers all over the world. It could be my next-door neighbour who could sent a signal around the world three times before it lands on my computer."

D.I. Ginger says that the sheer volume of cases means that the computer crime unit is operating close to its limit.

"We currently have two officers dealing with a workload that is increasing at a rate of 100% per annum."

He wants more resources, but recognises that there are problems.

"I would love more officers to be able to do this type of work, but one has to be realistic. If we answer the public call and put more bobbies on the beat then that leaves less resources for dedicated squads like mine."

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