Police plan 'fast track' for civilian specialists

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The Independent Online

Civilian experts in cyber crime, fraud and surveillance would be "fast-tracked" into the police service under radical plans being drawn up by chief constables.

The Home Secretary is to be asked to allow civilians with crime fighting skills to join the police without first spending time in uniform on the beat. The idea is to be submitted to David Blunkett in the next two weeks as part of proposals to overhaul the police service.

Other plans include paying volunteer "special" officers a wage for the first time as a way of boosting the number of visible uniformed policemen and women. An annual figure of £2,500 for an eight-hour week has been suggested, but chief constables have yet to decide on a suitable amount, although they have agreed the principle with other associations representing rank-and-file officers.

Chief constables from the 43 forces in England and Wales will also call on the Home Secretary to provide funding for another 10,000 officers.

Mr Blunkett has already signalled his intention of making changes to the police regulations, including allowing more flexible shifts, cutting sick days and allowing officers to patrol on their own. The chief constables' submission is in response to demands by the Home Secretary to modernise the police service, obtain greater value for money and reform the leadership structure.

Under the proposals on bringing in more civilian experts, the police will focus on specialists in the areas of crime fighting that are shunning a police career. These will include computer technicians to help tackle the growing problem of cyber crime, such as counterfeiting. Accountants and financial experts will be encouraged to help to fight fraud. Surveillance specialists, such as private detectives, and former security service personnel, will be encouraged to join to help with intelligence-led policing. Other possible civilian investigators could come from the forensic science field.

Chief constables have recognised that they are increasingly falling behind the fight against serious and organised crime, which uses the vast profits available from drugs, counterfeiting, bootlegging, people smuggling and fraud to buy the latest anti-surveillance equipment and hire experts and top legal defence teams.

Police chiefs recognise that many civilians are put off joining the fight against crime because they do not want to spend time in uniform on street patrol earning relatively low wages.

A senior police source said: "The main thing is to get their skills and make the police service an attractive career option. One possible way of doing that is changing the rules so that they would not have to be PCs working on the beat."

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: "We are supportive of the idea of paying 'specials' as they will provide added uniformed reassurance on the streets."

The Home Secretary, who has pledged to have 130,000 officers by the next general election, is expected to publish a White Paper on police reforms in the autumn.