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National Crime Agency...more than meets the eye

Theresa May has today announced the details of the proposed National Crime Agency. I welcome the NCA with open arms as it is being given a national scope and the authority to match, which is certainly an improvement on the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Agent Moulder...
However, I have had a niggling of de ja vu over the formation of the NCA. I recognise the problem. The problem being that serious crime doesn't observe borders, so we need a national agency to coordinate and manage national crimes. I recognise the political battle. Many of our representatives are fearful of the cost of such an agency. I also recognise the solution. A cross border body of investigators. You might as well give Teresa May a hat and call her J Edgar Hoover and rename the NCA the FBI, because its the same solution to the same problem, just 125 years later and in a different country.

When SOCA was formed i remember similar comparisons being made, and its a bit cheeky of me to make them again, i only do so to prove that we don't need to reinvent the wheel...the FBI is the model of national agency we should be aiming for. That will save local forces money, and result in better investigations and more successful prosecutions.

Theresa May, should be congratulated
Ms May talked today about how the NCA would be about the right action, at the right time, and with the right people. Its defiantly the right time, but there is a risk that its the wrong action with the wrong people. At first glance it looks like she has missed a trick here, but having read the proposal in more detail i have realised how much is being missed out in media reports. I hope to fill in some gaps, and predict how successful the proposals will be.

So what is the actual proposal? You should read the actual home office plan which is located here. But if you don't have time to read it here is my quick break down;

  • We need the NCA because the current system of individual agency is too patchy "we need a fresh start", the report says.
  • The NCA has one objective, and thats to cut crime.
  • It will be headed by what is described as a 'senior Chief Constable'. 
  • It's the first time that a 'multi agency' approach will be legislated for. The more research put into 'multi agency' working the better it will be for the public, because as any officer will tell you it doesn't always work. 
  • The officers that work within the NCA will have more powers than a police officer. It is likely the powers will be made up of police powers, border agency powers and HMIC powers...creating a 'Super Cop', or as Theresa May likes to call them "a powerful new body of operational crime fighters".
  • Looking at paragraph 1.7 we can see that it will have all its own resources, including "surveillance, fraud, threats to life". This will no doubt include a substantial armed response cadre with all the support network that comes with deploying lethal force.
  • It will comprise of distinct 'commands'
    • Organised Crime (formerly the Serious Organised Crime Agency)
    • Border Policing (will no doubt be made up of former UKBA staff, but there isn't any suggestion that the UKBA will be closed...what will the UKBA do?)
    • Economic Crime (formerly dealt with mainly by SOCA and local forces)
    • Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (looks like a straight bolt on of the current CEOP)
  • I expect each one of these commands to be lead by a person of chief constable ability. I think it likely that they will be led by actual chief constables, as the proposal says that it will be "led by a senior experienced individual and will manage its own priorities and risks.". Considering the importance of the NCA, it would be risky appointing anyone who doesn't already have a lot of experience of managing their own priorities and risks, a CC for example.

You may have been mislead
about the scope of the NCA
The above bullet points probably don't tell you anything you haven't already read on the BBC News website et al. One thing that other reports have missed totally is that the NCA has not been formed just to replace SOCA and merge a few other actually has the potential to provide a very strong national agency that has a wide scope. Lets look at part of paragraph 4.1; "The NCA may lead the national response to other criminality and house other functions provided that funding is available and...[it] requires specialist capability that would be too costly or inefficient if held in every force"

So there we have it, this paragraph paves the way for the agency we need...if only we had the money to do it!

I have already said that i think the FBI is the model of national law enforcement. Based on that premise, lets take a look at what the FBI's remit is, and how the NCA shapes up by comparison. I have colour coded the titles to indicate my feelings about how successful the NCA is in achieving what the FBI does.

Green: Successful
Amber: More work to do
Red: Unsuccessful

  • Terrorism - The proposal suggests that the terrorism strategy is so well established that it will remain in its current form at least until after the olympics. This seems sensible, the olympics are only next year and we can't afford to interrupt all the work that has been going on in preparation. (p4.2) Terrorism is almost the definition of cross border crime, so once the olympics is over it must be made part of the NCA.
  • Counterintelligence - This is currently the remit of the Security Service (MI5). There is no mention of it in the proposal, so clearly there is no suggestion that it will be handed over to the NCA. Its not high up the agenda at the moment, so its sensible to leave it where it is.
  • Cybercrime - The CEOP will be bolted onto the NCA and will form one of its 4 'Commands'.
  • Public Corruption - The Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police have tended to take the lead on public corruption cases purely because most of it comes out of Westminster. It makes sense to transfer public corruption responsibility to the NCA as it is a national crime that crosses borders. The 2 London police forces need to focus on looking after the people of London specifically.
  • Civil Rights - These are constitutional issues which tend to be dealt with directly by the courts...but i suspect there is some overlap with what i have said about 'public corruption'.
  • Organised Crime - SOCA is being merged with the NCA and Organised crime makes up one of the 4 'Commands'.
  • White Collar Crime - Economic crime is generally dealt with by local forces, although the City of London Police have an Economic Crime Unit that acts nationally. I am an advocate of handing any national crime over to the NCA and allowing local forces, the Met and CoL included, to focus on the people living in their area. It seems that Theresa May agrees with me which is why there is an Economic Crime command at the NCA.
  • Violent Crime and major Thefts - I think this is where the lines will blur a little and will rely on a pleasant return to the "call in the Yard" attitude which allows local police forces to know their limits and call in the NCA when they don't have the resources to run an investigation alone.

Once we scratch the surface (i.e. read past the executive summary) we can see that the NCA proposal is very far reaching and its something that we should be supporting. We may not get out FBI in the next couple of years, but the proposal leaves a lot of room for expansion and for that Theresa May should be congratulated.