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On Solid Ground

by Brian Sims
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI: Editor of Risk UK

Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI: Editor of Risk UK

Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs) are undoubtedly a force for good in tackling some of the UK’s most serious and organised criminals, but a detailed report just issued by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) finds that there’s “further work to be done” in order to provide a more consistent, concerted and co-ordinated service for members of the public.

The ten operational ROCUs were established across England and Wales to provide 13 specialist policing capabilities, among them undercover detective work and dedicated cyber crime investigation services specifically designed to help police forces tackle high-level criminality on a more effective footing.

There’s good reason for doing just that. Serious and organised crime has the potential to destroy peoples’ lives, so too the viability of businesses. It’s carried out by groups of individuals acting collaboratively on an ongoing basis, usually to achieve financial gain and sometimes involving heinous acts of violence.

HMIC’s first full inspection of ROCUs asserts that they’ve evolved in a “piecemeal” fashion, continue to “develop inconsistently” and range from highly ambitious and productive cross-force collaborative units to smaller and less effective ones.

This inconsistency can “compromise effectiveness” or “duplicate capabilities unnecessarily”. As a result, states HMIC, opportunities for building and strengthening a consistent national approach towards tackling serious and organised criminality are seemingly being missed.

For clarity, the staff and detectives in ROCUs are both capable and motivated. There’s no doubting they conduct high quality investigations. While much of their work necessarily takes place outside of public scrutiny, they’re beginning to communicate with the masses, and notably so through social media. This has enabled them to publicise successful operations and offer salient advice on how either individuals or companies might best protect themselves from serious and organised criminality.

Importantly, HMIC’s study has discovered some ROCUs have yet to implement all of those 13 specialist capabilities that constitute the ‘minimum expectation’, while certain police forces have perhaps been slow or otherwise unwilling to commit fully to the regional provision of such capabilities, particularly so in terms of undercover policing and targeted surveillance.

It’s HMIC’s view that ROCUs need to be more fully integrated with the National Crime Agency (NCA) as well as the national counter-terrorism policing network. While ROCUs harbour a good level of intelligence capability, HMIC feels their aptitudes around new and emerging threats such as modern slavery and human trafficking remain somewhat incomplete.

In its thorough report, entitled ‘Regional Organised Crime Units: A Review of Capability and Effectiveness’, HMIC goes on to make no less than eleven recommendations for ROCUs as well as police forces themselves, the NCA and, indeed, the Home Office.

HMIC is adamant that, if they’re to increase regional collaboration and develop a greater cohesion around solutions provision for the police forces whom they serve, ROCUs must strive to build on their firm foundations. A correct summation in the face of today’s increasingly challenging criminal threat.

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