Police face rising workload as pandemic drove rising tide of digital crime

Posted: 30th May 2022

The police in Scotland are being “run ragged” by a rising tide of digital crime, with an average of ten arrests every week and claims of a backlog of property checks where the internet is believed to have been used to commit serious sexual offences.

The national force said 750 arrests for offences committed online had been made since October 2020 as well-placed sources revealed that intelligence on offences such as online grooming is coming in faster than the police can respond.

“There’s a huge backlog of houses waiting to be searched, the team executing the warrants are run ragged and searching houses every day, but new intelligence about new addresses keeps coming in, making it impossible to get the numbers down,” said a senior officer. “There is definite strain among the cops who are dealing with it, as it’s unrelenting.”

Detective Chief Inspector Fionnuala McPhail admitted the workload “can be significant” but stressed that cases were prioritised dependent on risk. “It would not be accurate to describe it as a backlog,” she said.

Assistant Chief Constable Bex Smith told this newpaper last week that Police Scotland had increased the number of staff working in its digital forensics department by almost a third. The specially trained officers can extract evidence and data from electronic devices during investigations for a wide range of crimes.

The hundreds of arrests made in the past 19 months had helped protect more than 1,500 vulnerable children, said Smith. She added: “We want to ensure the people of Scotland are safe and secure in the digital world we now live in, as the online space is becoming a bigger part of frontline policing every day.”

The issues of online child abuse, grooming and exploitation were examined this month by Holyrood’s justice committee.

Joanne Smith, from the charity NSPCC Scotland, told MSPs that the trend towards tech-enabled forms of child sexual abuse had been growing for years but worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It created “a perfect storm”, she said, with children and abusers spending more time at home and online coupled with the huge growth in the use of smartphones and more sophisticated types of technology such as live streaming.

“That means that rates and forms of abuse can escalate with virility because of the ways in which groomers are able to move people from one rather open platform onto much more private and encrypted forms of communication. That is a really worrying trend.”

Joanne Smith told the justice committee that policing “is just one aspect of the issue and that we cannot just arrest our way out of the problem”. She said, however, that closing several loopholes would help the fight against online sexual crime.

“There is no Scottish legislation that is specific to prohibited images. That is a gap. The current criteria for an application for a risk of sexual harm order does not cover online offences. I think that it would be quite straightforward to close that gap, and we would be interested in seeing that.”


Source: The Times

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