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New unit tackles digital criminals

23 May 2019

CUMBRIA CONSTABULARY and Cumbria’s police and crime commissioner, Peter McCall, have launched a new Cyber and Digital Crime Unit to deal with the growing world of online offending.

The commissioner and constabulary have invested in additional specialist services to deter digital criminals – and help the victims they target.

In another example of the unseen policing going on behind the scenes every day to tackle offending and protect people, the dedicated digital experts are providing an improved police service to both individuals and businesses.

The unit, based at Cumbria Constabulary headquarters, near Penrith, is up-and-running following a pledge by Peter McCall to increase funding to fight cyber crime.

This followed a rise - backed by the majority of the public who were surveyed last year - in the police precept of the council tax bill in Cumbria, the part that pays for policing.

Newly recruited staff and officers who are experts in their field have taken up positions in the Cyber and Digital Crime Unit.

The unit delivers an improved force-level capability to investigate and pursue offenders and help businesses and people protect themselves from attack.

Crimes tackled by the unit include online sex crimes such as sharing, viewing and downloading indecent images, including where there is sexual abuse of a child.

It covers offences such as hacking, digital fraud and online exploitation.

The unit also forensically examines digital devices seized during police investigations.

Behind the scenes, these types of crimes can involve long and complex investigations, including detailed examination of digital equipment.

Offenders often do not live in county boundaries, providing a new challenge to police.

With changes in society and technology, the number of these types of crimes continue to grow – so the unit are placed to deal with an increasing problem.

National referrals of this type of crime have risen massively in the past five years and these are often passed to local forces.

So far this year Cumbria Constabulary have received more than 50 referrals of cases which must be investigated.

Criminals carrying out cyber-enabled or cyber-dependent crimes have received prison sentences totalling more than 60 years following work by Cumbria officers in the last year.

Detective Inspector Ian Harwood leads the new unit. He said,  “We are delighted to show the public what their council tax is paying for – an improved service to protect anybody who uses a digital device.

“In this day and age, that includes most of us. If you shop online, use social media or use email to communicate you could fall victim to an online criminal if you do not take care.

“Cyber criminals can hide behind their screens.

“But their actions can have a huge impact on businesses, individuals, vulnerable members of society and children.

“This new team is crucial in order to prevent people from entering the world of cyber criminality by providing early intervention and diversion, protect our communities by providing good, up to date and simple advice to reduce the risk of becoming a victim, prepare ourselves to effectively deal with cybercrime or a significant cyber-attack and finally, we will be in a much better position to pursue those who commit cybercrime and bring them to justice.”

Mr McCall said, “It is great news that Cumbria Constabulary have been able to use the additional funding raised through council tax precept to fund this new cyber unit. 

“Increasingly, we are more likely to be a victim of crime through our online activities than at any other time.

“This is why it is essential to invest in this area, to ensure that we have the technology in place to tackle this difficult and growing crime.

“Traditionally cybercrime is not an offence that people may think of as a ‘day-to-day’ policing matter.

“The digital world is a dangerous world and the modern threats and risks of online criminals, as they hide behind their screens, faceless and anonymous, has significantly increased.

“Offences such as internet fraud, online grooming, cyber stalking and child sexual exploitation, where criminals focus on the most vulnerable as an easy target, are happening here in Cumbria.

“Being able to invest in additional specialist services and increase the number of cybercrime experts within the Cyber and Digital Crime Unit, will help and support us in staying one step ahead of online crime.

“People often ask me about increasing police presence ‘on the beat’.

“I agree that this is an important priority and the additional 25 officers within the neighbourhood community teams have had a big impact and made a real difference.

“In addition, I will often refer to the unseen element of policing, of which our Cyber and Digital Crime Unit is an excellent example.

“The large number of policing hours invested into specialist cybercrime cases may not be as visible, but is none the less, just as important.”

DI Harwood added, “The specialist officers and staff are in place to tackle and deter crime in what is becoming a busier and more demanding area of policing.

“One of the challenges in policing is keeping up with changing trends in crime.

“And cybercrime is something that has become more of a threat as people become more familiar with using computers and other devices for day-to-day life.

“Criminals will also exploit any new method available to commit their offences – and we need to keep one step ahead of them.

“We work hard together with our partners to highlight the threat and to prevent people from falling victim.

“We would urge people to be vigilant of all the threats that exist online and to protect themselves as best they can.”