SOCA: we just want your money?

Just over a year ago I wrote about the, then upcoming, Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), reporting that their aim in tackling “level 3” crime was to be “mysterious and menacing“. I pointed out how they were going to be absorbing the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) and that this would leave a large gap, in that there would apparently be no police organisation dealing with “level 2” eCrime — crime which is not local to a single police force area, but that is not sufficiently serious or organised to be dealt with by SOCA.

In fact, I’ve since learnt that the inability to deal with level 2 criminality is not just an eCrime issue. In 2005 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) published “Closing the Gap – Review of the ‘Fitness for Purpose’ of the Current Structure of Policing in England and Wales“, which found that the failure to deal with “level 2” criminality was an issue across a very wide range of different crimes (the whole report makes its points without once mentioning eCrime or the Internet). This led to the, now abandoned, proposals to compulsorily merge 43 police forces into 17 larger units. No further generic policy initiative appears to be forthcoming.

However, as I wrote in October, there is some thought going into eCrime and the current proposal is “mainstreaming“, viz: not treating it as anything special.

Additionally, the Met Police have been floating the idea of an national coordination centre for eCrime reports, as hinted at in this January 2007 Met eCrime progress report to the Metropolitan Police Authority. Current indications are that the Home Office may have problems coming up with the money to fund the centre, although SCDEA e-Crime, the equivalent unit in Scotland, is funded by the Scottish Executive. Perhaps more about progress south of the border will come to light in March, when Commander Sue Wilkinson, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead on eCrime testifies before a House of Lords Select Committee.

But, I’m digressing, so back to SOCA

Last month I, and a couple of other eCrime policy opinion formers (!), were invited down to Docklands for the proverbial “free lunch” and several hours of presentations on what SOCA is doing about “level 3” criminality. It’s a little tricky to report on the detail, because they asked us to treat some of the material in confidence. However, two clear messages stood out:

The first is that the absorbed NHTCU is now significantly bigger, significantly better resourced, and with the hiving off of “child abuse image” issues to CEOP, is not being forever distracted into chasing down individual paedophiles (if there’s one child at risk, or an 420-million dollar bank hack to investigate, the former tended to get all the resource). This is basically a Good Thing, so far as it goes.

The second message is that SOCA is a “harm reduction agency” and is not just concentrating on detective work and prosecutions. They are also looking at a whole range of other interventions, from offender management (serious, organised criminals have a very high recidivism rate) through diligent application of the Proceeds of Crime legislation, to working with industry to harden systems against criminal opportunities.

They have a Bill before parliament at present (the Serious Crime Bill) which will give them sweeping new powers to create “gangster-ASBOs” to restrict the lives of convicted organised criminals, and will permit the wholesale swapping of data for the prevention of fraud, without infringement of the Data Protection Act. The Bill also reworks the framework for “inchoate” offences, viz: incitement to commit crimes or assisting with them — of which perhaps more on another occasion, since poor wording for the offences could make many security research activities problematic.

Looking back, it is this strong emphasis on SOCA’s approach to ensuring “crime doesn’t pay” that remains with me most strongly. This isn’t just the approach of locking Al Capone up for tax evasion because nothing else could be made to stick (though Capone actually served time for several other offences). This is all about SOCA developing an effective way of stripping criminals of their ill-gotten gains.

I’m reminded of Sir Alan Sugar giving a lecture about management way back in the 1980’s. He was mocking the catch-phrase/mission-statement culture, memorably saying, “‘Pan Am takes good care of you’, ‘Marks and Spencer loves you’, ‘Securicor cares’ . . . at Amstrad, ‘We just want your money’“. Twenty years on, that seems a rather apt phrase for a significant slice of SOCA’s activities.

6 thoughts on “SOCA: we just want your money?

  1. Richard,

    It is a little more proof (if required) that we are moving away from a proactive Police force (prevention) into a reactive Police force (punative).

    Once upon a time the biggest fear a criminal had was getting “caught in the act” by members of the Police. This type of arrest generaly happend for two reasons chance and intelegance. Both of which are expensive in manpower resources.

    Now it looks like the Police have decided that it is (for whatever reason) not cost effective to prevent crime just chase after those with assets to be ceased after the crime.

    There are several problems with this attitude,

    The first is that neither the Police nor other Government Agencies have been any good at it in the past, in fact on one or two occasions humiliatingly so (Perhaps one of the reasons the SFO got nick-named the “Serious Farce Office”, and has effectivly disappeared into the mists of time).

    Secondly it draws away Police attention from the types of crime that matter most to the voter such as street crime, house breaking etc. This is not a good political move, with the media already giving creadence to the notion that “offences are being created for back door taxes” any further down turn on Policing street crime etc will be seen very negativly by the voter.

    Thirdly it will only be the criminals with assets to “be ceased” that will overly worry about this. The bottom feeders (street crime etc) will most likley not have sufficient assets to make it worth while pursuing them for them. The top of the food chain criminals however will resort to new methods to keep their assets safe from the Police and HMG, oh and they will also be able to get/buy better legal minds to help them.

    I will stick my neck out a little bit here and make a prediction,

    “There will be one or two initial big successes then the policy will increasingly fail to return value for money”

    I could as I have in the past give a lot of arguments to support this view but it will be easier on the reader not to (unless people realy want me to 😉

  2. …the Scotts gave us the Computer Misuse Act, and now they giveth the E-Police to catch the E-Criminals.

    –fingers crossed Mr Reid and Mr Brown!

  3. Meanwhile another government department is doing the exact opposite – The Guardian

    Thousands of criminals who are dodging nearly £500m in fines are to escape a crackdown forcing them to pay up after ministers quietly dropped the initiative.

    The Department for Constitutional Affairs confirmed yesterday that it had abandoned Operation Payback, a high-profile campaign with radio and TV advertisements and even beer mats with a slogan warning criminals: “Fine dodgers: we are coming to collect.”

  4. Has anyone noticed that all the LE agencies recently created have now be disbanded
    NCIS – Gone
    NCS – Gone
    ARA – Gone
    SOCA – Hmm one wonders how long before it is ‘reviewed’

  5. Soca are now leading the life style of James bond to catch criminals by any means,and the power they have is abused so what makes them different to criminals ,,,,, not a lot as they answer to no one and break the law to uphold it 15 million pounds to catch 1 million of ill-gotten gains focus on the real problem soca,

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