Changing face of policing with new focus on crime fighting in digital age

Norfolk Police are deploying more technology than ever before in their attempt to fight crime

Norfolk Police are deploying more technology than ever before in their attempt to fight crime - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Norfolk chief constable Simon Bailey says the way police fight crime is rapidly changing – for the better

As chief constable I am regularly asked to speak at conferences, public meetings and private functions. Whenever possible I use these opportunities to talk about how proud I am to now lead the force I joined in 1986, but more importantly I talk about the changing face of crime in Norfolk.

I regularly pose the question: "How many houses do you think are broken into in the county every day?" The answers vary from as low as 50 to the highest of a 1,000... the fact is that we have just over four houses broken into every day, we have no more than six cars broken into every day and even fewer vehicles are stolen.

While we know that those types of crimes still have a significant impact on victims, the greatest demand facing my officers now is not the traditional types of crime I grew up with; our greatest demand today is that of abuse and exploitation.

We receive on average 58 domestic abuse calls every day and only slightly fewer calls as a result of concerns for safety. Every day my detective colleagues are taking more and more reports of rape and serious sexual offences and my proactive teams will invariably be making another arrest targeting county lines activity.

We are always keen to encourage victims to report sexual offences but the crime challenge for officers has fundamentally changed and this change is made even more complex because of the use of technology to facilitate or be a part of the abuse. Officers are routinely having to deal with mobile telephones that can store thousands of images and messages to not only prove an offence took place, but also ensure there is no material that undermines the prosecution case or supports the defence case. As a result of this challenge we have had to focus more on developing new capabilities and more innovative ways of investigating such crimes with recent months.

I am also delighted with the progress we are having with a brand new and innovative police staff role. Digital Police Investigators have been recruited to exploit the benefits of technology and to work with our detectives to improve not only the quality of our investigations but also to help progress them more quickly.

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This highly talented group of young tech savvy colleagues are quickly becoming a detectives' best friend as they start to play a really important role in our response to digitally enabled crime, assisting detectives in unlocking lines of enquiry which are contained in digital devices. There is hardly an investigation in today's world which does not involve some form of digital device, be it a mobile phone, laptop, tablet and the like. Indeed, our homes are filling with technology such as routers, doorbells and virtual smart assistants such as Alexa.

All of these can assist in our complex investigations and our pursuit of the truth. But to understand the information that these devices contain is a skill which many of my detectives did not sign up for. A phone will have 70,000 text messages, a digital device may have literally millions of rows of data in various data tables. I only have six Police Digital Investigators at the moment, a small scale pilot as part of my Norfolk 2020 programme, but I can see there being many more as already the results are speaking for themselves. In their first fortnight they identified a likely sex trafficking ring across the country, and they are saving time and money by achieving early guilty pleas as the evidence becomes irrefutable. We are currently continuing the recruitment of this exciting role and I am assessing the national uplift programme to see if I can fund more going forwards.

Another policing initiative introduced as part of our policing model changes and which has seen great success is Operation Moonshot, three proactive policing teams deploying innovative use of intelligence and exploiting technology such as automatic number plate recognition to disrupt criminals and protect communities. This operation and element of the Norfolk 2020 programme recently won a World Class Policing Award. Originally launched as a small-scale pilot and initially staffed by a sergeant and six police constables, the pilot has become our 'business as usual' approach across the force targeting high-harm, high-risk offenders ranging from organised crime groups through to outstanding domestic abuse offenders. Since the Moonshot teams have been in place we have made nearly 2,000 arrests and seized over seven figures worth of recovered properties.

There is no doubt that with the uplift commitment of over 200 officers coming into policing for Norfolk, there will be an expectation around being able to see improvements in a number of areas of policing. This will include violent crime reduced, detection rates improved, the threat of county lines continuing to be addressed, that neighbourhood crimes are given focus and burglary and vehicle crime rates are reduced even further. I suspect there will also be real focus on areas of vulnerability such as child protection and modern slavery.

We are going to have to rise to that challenge and it is going to bring additional scrutiny but I believe we are now in the best possible place to deliver against both community and central government-led expectations.