HMIC: Forces Must Address Digital Skills Gap

HMIC: Forces Must Address Digital Skills Gap

Service ‘does not understand’ the types of people it needs in its workforce.

Police forces must start recruiting people with the skills they need rather than just focusing on increasing numbers, HMIC has warned.

In its annual PEEL efficiency report, HMIC said many forces are now recruiting new officers for the first time in years but that they are failing to identify the skills they need from such recruits.

“It is increasingly important that forces not only deploy the right numbers of officers and staff to meet demand, but also deploy officers and staff with the right skills,” the report states.

“In order to demonstrate this, forces need to have a detailed understanding of the skills they need in their organisations and what skills they actually have, as well as comprehensive plans in place to bridge any gaps.”

In particular, it said forces were not focusing on recruiting people who had digital skills which would be crucial in tackling issues such as cyber-crime as well as vital to day-to-day policing in the 21st century.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham, who led the inspection, said forces were generally unable to demonstrate the type of people they were trying to recruit.

“They are unable to say the sort of skills they were looking for,” he said.

“For example, police officers need to be able to extract evidence from phones and CCTV. This is mainstream, real day-in, day-out policing that requires a different skills set from those currently within the service.

“Digital crime requires a different type of forensic capability. It requires a whole different set of skills and routinely forces are struggling to develop that.”

The lack of digital skills means in some forces, digital extraction from a mobile phone or other device can take six to seven months, whereas some officers can do the same process on the same day.

“Officers are rightly seizing devices in cases such as harassment, sexting, or domestic abuse for example but then taking months to get a digital download of an alleged offender,” said HMI Zoe Billingham.

“That cannot be afforded – a victim might give up on supporting the police case, an offender may carry on offending.”

Forces should also give more consideration to other workforce options, the inspectorate said.

“HMIC had hoped to see much more innovative use of police staff, PCSOs, special constables and volunteers to bring in new and under-represented skills to the police workforce,” the report states.

“Even forces that have recently conducted large scale recruitment for special constables or PCSOs have not really considered what skills might be needed beyond basic operational skills.”

It praised the work of Lancashire and Wiltshire who have been recruiting transferees from other forces who have specific skills such as firearms policing and safeguarding children they knew they were lacking in their own workforce.

Overall, 33 forces were assessed as “good” in the way they identify current demand and managing their resources.

Eight forces – Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, City of London, Devon and Cornwall, Dyfed-Powys, Humberside, Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire – were rated as “requiring improvement”, while Durham and West Midlands were classed as “outstanding”.


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