Monday, 9 February 2004

FBI - U.K. Style

Clive Summerfield @ Monday, February 09, 2004
Just what are they taking in the Home Office these days? Turn your back for 5 minutes and whoosh, the sound of another policy announcement winging its way from Queen Anne's Gate. Today we have the announcement of the formation of SOCA. No, nothing to do with balls, although depending on your perception of these sorts of things, you might want to think of it as having a lot to do with the by products of bulls... Anyway, back to the SOCA, more formally known as the Serious Organised Crime Agency. It is a merger of the NCS (National Crime Squad), the NCIS (National Criminal Intelligence Service) along with the investigative branches of HMC&E (Her Majesty's Customs and Excise) and the Immigration Service. The new organisation's remit is to tackle serious crimes such as drug trafficking, people smuggling, fraud and extortion. However, it will not deal with terrorism or murder; these crimes remaining with the current responsible organisations. And in order to hit the ground running, the SOCA will employ up to 5,000 agents, along with civilian staff such as accountants, computer consultants and financial experts to assist in investigations.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Very topical, what with the Morecombe deaths last week. I'd go as far as to say that it is just the sort of integrated organisation that is need to tackle these sorts of crimes.

As with most announcements these days, the devil is in the detail. 5,000 agents sounds impressive, until you realise that these aren't new agents, but are rather the result of the organisational mergers (NCIS: 1,200 employees, NCS: 1,750 employees, HMC&E: 1,850 employees).

And the issues of excessive bureaucracy that hamstring the current law enforcement agencies also need to be resolved. Otherwise it will become just another money pit, and a massive let-down.

And the responsibility for prosecuting these crimes will still lie with the regional forces, who are already struggling. What chance is there of seeing an increase in the successful detections and conviction of burglaries, muggings and other opportunistic crimes when the local police are tied up processing the prestige cases from the glory boys at SOCA.

To be brutally honest, a more appropriate approach would be:
  • an increase in number of conventional police;
  • increased emphasis on detecting serious crimes rather than persecuting motorists;
  • a massive reduction in the bureaucratic burdens of the existing forces;
  • a toughening up of sentencing by the courts;

So let's not get too upbeat about this. In reality it is more likely to be another piece of PR from the Blunkett machine than a truly constructive step forward in crime detection and prosecution. If the SOCA does get the go-ahead, I predict that it will become ineffective and bogged down in petty squabbling with the existing organisations within 5 years.

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