Written Evidence submitted by Robert Dover, Professor of Criminology, University of Hull (POP0064)


1)I have opted to focus my evidence on the third question posed by the Committee, ‘What roles police should prioritize?’. I have opted not to add to the weight of evidence on individual crime areas and instead focus on two areas in which police forces have yet to focus convincingly, and in which there is considerable value to them doing so.


2)Addressing the third question of what roles police forces should prioritise, I have been struck through my research into policing by the under-resourcing in two key functions: 1) intelligence officers, and 2) officers trained to a high level in policing in cyber-space.

3)Intelligence is a term that is understood quite differently between defence, the primary intelligence agencies and law enforcement. In law enforcement, and even within the Police Education Qualifications Framework – the new gold standard for police education, noting the caveat of the Home Secretary’s recent remarks, intelligence is focused on tactical concerns, rather than strategic intelligence or horizon scanning as it would be understood in the primary intelligence agencies.[1]

4)Strategic intelligence and horizon scanning have the potential to add great value to policing. Both disciplines underpin the movement of human and technical resources to short- or medium-term challenges as they emerge. Intelligence-led horizon scanning allows for longer-term force planning, including the upskilling of the existing staffing base and the commission of new lines of recruitment or the commissioning of new equipment. A twin reality of the marginalization of intelligence as un-preferred career route, and the pressures on police forces currently (from the weight of activity and the political pressures to respond to certain kinds of criminal activity) mean that staffing is focused on meeting immediate operational requirements. The incorrectly maligned and closed direct entry schemes have deprived forces of being able to bring in transformational expertise from cognate sectors. The requirement to have been ‘on the front line’ and to have earned credibility through arrests is hindering the police, nationally, in acquiring an intelligence function that would allow individual forces to plan and allocate resource to meet current and future challenges.

5)The under-resourcing in cyber-expertise comes in several distinctive ways. Policing creates exploitable data-lakes. These data resources are apt for relatively straightforward data-science techniques, for utilization as the means by which to experiment with new approaches to policing in limited scale trials, and through use as training-sets for AI programmes, and for utilization in refined AI programmes for predictive policing. Currently, these data resources sit as relatively stagnant ponds (if you will excuse the extension of the metaphor) awaiting individual researchers or individual efforts by officers to examine data as it relates to a particular and limited policing challenge. There are clearly large ethical and public policy challenges associated with a widespread exploitation of such data, which would inevitably attract ‘Minority Report’ headlines.[2] In terms of the technical possibilities, these data lakes are currently underexamined.

6)The second area of under-resourcing in the cyber-realm comes through the failure to either train or to onboard those with appropriate cyber-skills to be able to police the range of platforms, and emergent and constantly evolving techniques in the cyber-realm. There are – of course – specialist cyber units, including the National Cyber Security Centre which sits above, and yet interacts with police forces.[3] These specialist units are, by report, excellent, but given the scale of challenge which ranges from state-actor, to state-sponsored actor, to organized criminality, and highly skilled individuals, the scale of response requires a magnitude greater response. We might pick a number arbitrarily, but to suggest that every police force should be dedicating a third of its resources and efforts to cyber-crime in ten years’ time does not feel disproportionate, given the scale of criminality on the internet, the interconnectedness of UK citizens and emerging payment (digital coins and non-fungible tokens) and networking technologies (including the emergent metaverse) that aim to draw citizens more closely into cyber-enabled realms and blended realities.[4] Debates around proportionality, ethics and legality in this space, should already be high on the agenda of policy makers.

7)Risk aversion: the risk aversion of police forces is understandable in the light of myriad scandal, followed by public inquiry. The Undercover Policing Inquiry is a good example of the sort of process that can follow risk-taking by police forces.[5] Risk aversion in the two areas of policing I have highlighted above will result in systemic level failures. It is not cheaper to allow online fraud to continue to flourish, or for quasi-Ponzi scheme digital coins to go unchecked, than it is to take measured risks to identify, contain and roll these back. Similarly, risk acceptance in disrupting classic models of recruitment, to allow for the onboarding of disruptive technologists will very likely begin to match organized online crime, rather than being mostly reactive to it.

8)The emergent technologies of our time – which include the internet of things and the metaverse – need to be subject to public policy discussions. Should we expect to see overt policing by law enforcement officers on Meta/Facebook’s Horizon Worlds platform, for example? There is precedent for this on a pre-metaverse platform known as Second Life, where US authorities placed virtual and declared stations on cyber real-estate. Such a presence seems to have run contrary to the internet’s self-declared understanding of itself as ‘without boundaries’ and transnational. Similarly, the owner of internet of things devices thinks their primary relationships are with the supplier of the device and the data aggregator or service. The public policy debate about what is reasonable for law enforcement agencies to do with that device or its data is urgently required.

9)Closed communities: Policing is understandably a relatively closed community due to its challenging role, its function, its collective experiences and its common forms of training, dress and codes. Despite its many efforts to ‘open up’, the primary reference point within policing is the currency of having done the job, of having lived it. This is common to other uniformed services, for similar reasons, but it does serve as a barrier to wider inputs.

10)There are a number of productive ways in which police forces can acquire outside expertise, from contract research, to academic liaison and so on. These avenues are mostly generating incremental changes, that are limited to force or regional areas. Paradigm shifts and nationally adopted innovations are not as common as they should be, and could be moved by different processes at the National Police Chief Council level or via the way that research is propagated by the College of Policing, which is a natural agent of change.

November 2022





[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/suella-braverman-at-the-apcc-and-npcc-partnership-summit

[2] David Sims, Minority Report Tried to Warn Us About Technology, The Atlantic, 14 June 2022: https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2022/06/minority-report-spielberg-movie-tom-cruise/661274/

[3] National Cyber Security Centre: https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/

[4] Europol, Policing the Metaverse, October 2022: https://www.europol.europa.eu/cms/sites/default/files/documents/Policing%20in%20the%20metaverse%20-%20what%20law%20enforcement%20needs%20to%20know.pdf

[5] Undercover Policing Inquiry: https://www.ucpi.org.uk/