A TEAM of online experts will be recruited in Hampshire in a scheme designed to crack down on the menace of cyber crime.
Home secretary Theresa May was at the Forensic Innovation Centre in Portsmouth, which is at the forefront of the fight against digital crime, as the pilot was launched.
Hampshire police announced it wants highly-trained IT workers to become special constables or support volunteers as part of a six to 12-month pilot.
Senior officers have admitted some investigations are currently reaching ‘dead ends’ as staff and officers do not have the necessary technical skills.
Cyber crime includes fraud, holding data to ransom and even child sexual exploitation. Now the force is turning to volunteers – branded cyber special constables or support volunteers – as it does not have the cash for training its workforce to a high level.
Mrs May said: ‘Crime is falling, but crime is changing and increasingly crime is moving online.
Crime is falling, but crime is changing and increasingly crime is moving onlineHome secretary Theresa May
‘With the fast pace of change in technology, it’s important police forces are able to keep up with that.
‘We’ve got a long-standing tradition of specials, people actually coming forward and helping the police. The police are the public, the public are the police.
‘What we’re now doing is looking to bring some specialist skills into the police through special constables, but also through volunteers.’
Mrs May – who was at the facility run by the University of Portsmouth and Hampshire police on Monday – denied the scheme was policing on the cheap.
Special constable Stuart Moulton, 44, is a response and patrol officer based at Southsea and works for IT firm Cisco International.
‘It’s very early days, but of course I immediately put my hand up because it’s just something that plays to part of my day job,’ he said.
The pilot – run by Hampshire and Gloucestershire forces – will have five special constables and five police support volunteers, who are being called ‘cyber specials’.
They are unpaid positions, with constables having the same powers as regular police.
Mrs May has also announced that support volunteers – who currently have no police powers – will be given some without needing to be a constable. Set powers will remain only with constables, including making arrests.
Chief Specials Officer Tom Haye said: ‘I think we can be forgiven for calling them the geeks of the IT world – they associate themselves as being that so I can say that. But it is those really specialist people we’re looking to recruit.
‘We could never afford to employ people like that as a police force.’
He added: ‘They’re bringing very specialist or detailed knowledge of how to do digital forensics, how to look at data on computer systems or mobile phones. They’re people who understand how to look at data on networks or company networks.’
Simon Hayes, Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner, who is funding the pilot, said: ‘It gives us a strong extra capability. I expect this to be successful and an everyday part of Hampshire Constabulary.’
He added: ‘The public are reassured that the constabulary has this capability. I’m expecting the results that it brings in terms of prosecutions to be quite impressive.’
But the man who represents rank-and-file police has warned senior officers should not take advantage of their volunteers.
John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, said the cyber specials should be an addition, not a replacement.
He said: ‘I accept the level of understanding of IT and cyber crime is something we are better to look at in the wider IT world. But I don’t think we should expect to get it for free.’
He added: ‘They are still volunteers and we shouldn’t take advantage of that. They should be an addition, never a replacement.’