Agenda item

National Lead Force

The Commissioner & Chief Officers to be heard.


The Commissioner and Chief Officers were heard regarding National Lead Force issues and the following points were made.


·         The Commissioner introduced T/Commander Blackburn, who was in post following the retirement of Commander Baxter. The Commissioner added that Members would receive a National Lead Force Plan at their October 2020 meeting that set out where the Force sat within the national landscape.


·         The T/Commander (Economic Crime) noted the national economic crime picture for 2019/20, with one million contacts to Action Know Fraud which represented an 11% increase on year. At the beginning of lockdown there had been a 50% decrease in reporting, but pre-lockdown figures had now resumed. 2000 reports of COVID-specific fraud had been reported, of which 1682 had been disseminated to Forces. There had been a 46% increase in online shopping fraud mainly related to fake PPE and testing kits, resulting in 47 arrests and two charged to date.


·         In terms of national activity, a spending review bid composed of high, medium and low ‘asks’ had been submitted with a view to building capacity both within the City and nationally. It was planned to complete 40% of planned recruitment within year one of the planned three-year recruitment timeline.


·         Work continued on the fraud reform programme which involved all relevant national agencies. The programme was composed of six strands, namely (1) designing out fraud (2) communications and education (3) fraud and cyber reporting (4) National Cyber Crime Force (5) criminal justice and (6) victim support. The two key strands were the fraud and cyber reporting strand, which the Commissioner was leading on, and the National Cyber Crime Force which has been referenced in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, and aimed to create a whole systems approach to combating fraud. The Force was currently in design stage, with the Force involved in its development. In terms of fraud and cyber reporting, the City was at the stage of procuring a new system and had just undertaken soft market testing.


·         The T/Commander (Economic Crime) continued, noting that the Force was investigating 568 offences of which 68 had been deemed complex. National campaigns continued, with Op RADIUM combatting courier fraud resulting on over 100 arrests in the UK. A new Economic Crime Coordination Centre was due to be launched, that would lead on national campaigns going forward.


·         The Force had completed five of the fifteen Mackey Review recommendations, with work progressing on the remaining ten.


·         Other success stories in the National Lead Force context included an operation against a Romanian organised crime group leading to seizure of £2m and gold bars, and the arrest of a COVID-19 fraudster in the UK within four hours of receiving intelligence from US authorities.


·         A Member commented that the Mackey Review had highlighted the need for an end-to-end review of the National Lead Force operating model, including the dissemination of reports and the number of trained investigators across the UK. There was also a risk that an overemphasis on digitalisation would lead to a lack of emphasis on victim care.


·         The Chairman added that to tackle fraud effectively it has to be both a government priority, and a priority for PCCs. He had been making this point consistently at the Home Office Fraud Oversight Board and with PCCs. The Commissioner noted that he would, in non-public session, expand more on the Force’s work with the Home Office in the spending review and implications for increased capability and capacity.


·         The T/Commander (Economic Crime) assured Members that dissemination of reports was embedded within the procurement of the new system, as well as within the fraud reform programme.


·         A Member commented that many reviews of complaints were prompted by Action Know Fraud, and the use of algorithms to determine which reports should be disseminated. Whilst the use of algorithms and AI saved time and money, there was a question how far this was appropriate from a victim care perspective. The Member concluded by noting a recent RUSI report into the use of algorithms in policing and the recommendation that a framework be adopted. The Chairman concurred, noting there were issues around GDPR and potential bias within algorithms.


·         The T/Commander (Economic Crime) was heard in reply, noting that algorithms were a crucial tool given the volume of reporting and their ability to identify viable cases.


·         The Commissioner noted that he was happy to come back to the Board with a comprehensive position from the Force. The use of AI was at the forefront of a lot of thinking in the policing arena and the Force was mindful of its advantages and potential drawbacks. The Commissioner assured Members that decision making remained, ultimately, by human intervention and supported by AI.


·         The Chairman welcomed the offer of a report and requested that it include where else algorithms were used within the Force, alongside Action Know Fraud.