Just Around the Corner

Just Around the Corner

Just Around the Corner

The Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) is pleased to respond to the Foresight Crime Prevention Panel consultation 'Just Around the Corner'. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. Our expert knowledge in this instance, however, is somewhat limited and based on the advice received from only a few Fellows. Although we have many distinguished lawyers and judges as Fellows, we have no one with expertise or experience in policing per se.

The main strengths of the paper lie in its discussions of some of the ways in which technology can generate new types of crime, or new ways of committing old types of crime, and the ways in which it can assist in the prevention of crime or the detection of criminals. One of the main threats to society, however, is from serious and organised crime. The 1999 Report of H M Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) on the Scottish Crime Squad (para 1.7) notes:

"Any debate on the role of the Scottish Crime Squad, in the absence of a strategic analysis of the threat which the Squad is asked to oppose, risks becoming speculative and shallow".

The HMIC Report recommends that the Standing Committee of Chief Constables should commission a strategic review of the threat to Scotland from serious and organised crime. It was recognised that the role of a police force cannot be determined with any accuracy without up-to-date information about the identities, resources, previous convictions and current activities of serious and organised criminals who are operating within the area for which that police force is responsible. Unless sufficient resources are found to carry out such a review, it will not be possible to make an accurate appraisal of the threat to Scotland posed by serious and organised crime. If the present threat is not correctly analysed, there will be a lack of firm ground on which to base proposals for future change.
Some of the different sections of the consultation paper are addressed below:

What is crime and how might it develop?

The document offers speculations about social developments that would bear on crime but appears to be weaker on these aspects. This is partly because some of the possible developments are of concern primarily for reasons other than crime prevention, and to discuss them in the context of crime prevention might imply that we should be more concerned with preventing crime than with pursuing social justice for the excluded. It might be worth placing greater emphasis on the creation of a 'technologically disenfranchised underclass' (para. 2.16) and of the implications of anti-crime technology for civil liberties (para. 4.3). Here we are dealing not with speculations about large social changes, but with the direct implications of certain kinds of technology and their distribution and use; and there are some serious issues of social morality and justice that the Panel notes, but does not pursue. If its task was not to pursue such issues, then perhaps another Panel should do so.

With reference to the crime statistics on page 3 of the paper, the second of these paragraphs reveals wide differences between the recorded crime figures and the British Crime Survey. Given that crime levels could be subject to 'politicisation', the explanations for these differences put forward in footnotes 6 and 7 are not wholly convincing. Some means should be found of reconciling discrepancies in order to restore public confidence in politically sensitive statistics.

Question: Will empowered small agents become a ealistic crime threat - if so how should law enforcement adapt to tackle this?

There is ample evidence to the effect that small agents can, and do, become a serious threat to administrative and business dealings. One way to tackle this threat may be by having a high degree of knowledge and practical experience readily available to Scottish police forces through the establishment of a small unit of computer and other relevant technology experts within the Crime Squad. The recruitment and maintenance of such a unit, however, would be very expensive. The value of the small unit could be enhanced through the formation of links with eminent computer experts in academia and other sectors.

Question: How might we address the problems offered by globalisation?

The Society believes that the answer to this question must be through greater co-operation of police forces on an international level.

Question: How do we prevent technology creating a disenfranchised underclass?

It will be important to encourage as many people as possible to become proficient in technology. Much greater effort should also be made to further public understanding of science and technology through emphasis on training science correspondents and liaison officers, training and development programmes and "science centres".

Question: Will value move from the physical to the electronic?

This trend is already apparent and looks like continuing.

Question: Which skills and powers will be necessary to police future society - and who should exercise them?

The same skills and powers that the police deploy at present will be needed, with an increasing concentration on achieving a higher standard of performance in technology.

What role will technology play

Question: What will make new technology for crime prevention acceptable to the public?

There are dangers that new technology will not be acceptable to the public unless it works consistently and efficiently and is seen to be doing so. Although the sources of information are mostly anecdotal, many incidents occur involving mistakes by computer operators. If the public loses confidence in the ability of the police to use sophisticated technology effectively, there is a risk of a sharp reaction setting in againstit, coupled in some quarters with a demand for a return to simpler methods of policing - including a call for re-allocating resources to "The Bobby on the beat". The training programmes drawn up for the users of new technology should be frequent and exhaustive, with regular and compulsory retraining courses. If technology is seen to work and to bring about a significant improvement in the number of crimes solved, it is likely that there will be strong public support for it.

Question: Do we have to have a trade off between personal privacy and security?

There will always be a need to balance personal privacy and security. For example, the use of CCTV street cameras to identify trouble makers in town centres has been opposed by some people on personal privacy grounds. However, the use of CCTV has become popular with the public, mainly because it has proved to be effective. The public perceive that there are too many unnecessary restraints place upon security measures and the public pressure is to use all legitimate means to prevent crime rates from rising further.

Question: Do you have concerns about using technology to reduce crime?

One possible concern is that the small corps of police who are highly proficient operators of technology may themselves become corrupted by criminals and be able to apply a powerful level of influence through their own use of the technology. That is one reason why there would be a need for strict control and regular review of the personnel in these small groups.

What are the wider issues

How will we handle ever increasing amounts of information?

The Society agrees that one of the priorities in the development of information and communications technology in this area will be to improve the means of obtaining large amounts of useful information swiftly.

What are the implications for law enforcement?

While agreeing with the general statements made in this section, it is believed that over the course of the next twenty years police forces will still require their traditional and familiar policing skills in addition to the many new skills associated with new technologies.


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