Theresa May wants civilians to tackle cybercrime

IT workers could help the police solve cybercrimes, under new Home Office proposals

Police

Home Secretary Theresa May wants to sign up private citizens as volunteers to help police tackle digital crime, allowing forces to identify IT specialists who have the necessary expertise.

She said: "We want to help forces to create a more flexible workforce, bring in new skills and free up officers' time to focus on the jobs only they can carry out.

"At the same time, we want to encourage those with skills in particular demand, such as those with specialist IT or accountancy skills, to work alongside police officers to investigate cyber or financial crime, and help officers and staff fight crime more widely."

However, the trade union Unison, which represents public sector workers, accused May of trying to recruit citizens to fill gaps in police forces affected by cuts.

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A spokeswoman said in a statement: "The government is clearly pinning its hopes on a volunteer army to plug the huge gap left by the loss of so many dedicated and skilled police staff.

"Volunteers cannot be deployed to tackle serious crime in the middle of the night, and they are free to absent themselves from the workplace at any time, because they have no contract of employment. This makes volunteers totally unsuitable for police forces that need to know they can turn out staff in an emergency."

In the proposals, the Home Office confirmed citizens could play a greater role in crime investigations "as their experience grows".

But security firm Digital Guardian said the government's plans overlook a gap in expertise that already exists in cybersecurity, a problem which has been recognised by Chancellor George Osborne.

Thomas Fischer, principal threat researcher, said: "The announcement implies there are large quantities of trained infosec personnel out there that are willing and able to help for free, which simply isn't the case. For many years the infosecurity industry has faced a recruitment drought. As a result, individuals that do meet the required training standards are highly sought after assets, likely to be in well-paid positions, with very little time to do volunteer work on the side."

The plans were first revealed in a consultation document released last September, but the government has not yet said which of the proposals it will carry out. 

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There are around 16,000 volunteer police officers, called Special Constables, in England and Wales.

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