Pending improvements to the British police complaints system

In February 2022, the UK Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee published a report on complaints handling and the police behaviour review, in which it identifies significant gaps. The investigation to evaluate the performance of the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) began in the summer of 2020 and lasted 18 months. The IOPC, which has the primary role of overseeing the most serious cases of complaints against police officers and police forces in England and Wales, and which may therefore carry disciplinary liability, became operational in January 2018. However, it is not a completely new body, as it replaced the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPPC), which was created in 2003 and replaced the Police Complaints Authority (PCA). These previous changes were made in an attempt to improve the handling of the complaints.

MPs recall that police performance in England and Wales is based on consent: officers have the power to investigate crime and maintain public safety, but have a duty to comply with the highest standards of police behaviour. Therefore, to ensure that the public trusts the police, there must be a good system in place to manage and monitor the behaviour of the officers and the force, and the complaints that are filed.

The research concludes that some of the dissatisfaction with this system is unjustified or unfair, and that the IOPC has made significant progress and has established a more open, transparent and responsive system than previous bodies. However, there is still room for improvement in six areas:

  • Duration of investigations: Although the majority are resolved in less than a year (and this duration has been reduced with respect to previous bodies), there are still procedures that drag on for years, without it being clear whether this is the police forces’ or the IOPC’s responsibility. Therefore, a change in police culture is needed to streamline these procedures and for all parties to assume their responsibilities.
  • Citizen confidence: Some reviews of specific areas (such as domestic violence, mental health, or racial discrimination) provide insights into how the police interact with the communities they serve. However, in these major investigations there needs to be greater collaboration between organisations and police forces, and the procedures need to be made accessible to the public.
  • Accessibility: Promoting citizens’ awareness of these procedures is not just a matter of being able to access documents. The use of technical language or complex constructions also hinders or discourages public access. Therefore, IOPC should make efforts to make documentation available in simple vocabulary and in different formats and languages.
  • Ensure best practices: Some of the procedures are managed by police forces, but it is not clear whether all of them follow IOPC guidelines. Therefore, this should be monitored and the recommendations should be followed.
  • Governance of the IOPC: The tasks of those responsible for the IOPC still carry over some dysfunctions from previous bodies and, although the new structure has brought about positive changes, there are still shortcomings, such as in internal supervision. Therefore, it urges the government to review the structure of the organisation and to incorporate an independent head to the governing board.
  • Police and Crime Commissioners: They are elected officials whose function is to supervise the police forces of the territorial districts where they are elected. The parliamentary inquiry has found that, despite the fact that part of their functions are related to the supervision of disciplinary complaints and sanctions, only a minimal part of these positions have high compliance with these functions. Therefore, they need to have more resources in order to be able to cope with these tasks as well.

Press release on the publication of the report in the UK Parliament:

https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/83/home-affairs-committee/news/161387/progress-made-but-many-still-feel-let-down-by-police-complaints-system/

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The rush to recruit police officers poses a very significant risk

Boris Johnson’s pledge to recruit another 20,000 police officers increases the risk of admitting officers with misogynistic, racist or homophobic behaviour, all amid concerns that there is a discriminatory culture in police forces in England and Wales.

Currently, the police in England and Wales are dealing with a number of problems, including the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer, in an attempt to rebuild public confidence.

As published by The Guardian, an internal police report highlighted warnings that the sheer scale and speed of the 20,000-strong recruitment campaign inevitably carries risks, adding that there is a real danger that people unfit for the police force could slip through all the filters and be recruited.

In parallel, the paper considers that the system fails when, on occasion, organised crime groups attempt to infiltrate the police, which can have catastrophic consequences. When unsuitable applicants lie on application forms, hide their social media activity or downplay their criminal connections, the verification quality must consistently be strong.

If, during the probation period, an agent exhibits behaviour such as homophobia, racism, misogyny or dishonesty, it must be taken very seriously. If you just say well, they’ll be a good cop, we’ll polish them up, you’re protecting a problem that could last 30 years.

The report also exposes other issues, such as:

• Fraud has increased exponentially and continues to be mistakenly treated as a low priority by many police forces.

• The local accountability model has severed some relationships between police and politicians, and has left some police chiefs lacking confidence in their operational independence.

• The fragile architecture of having 43 police forces, devised in 1962 and implemented in 1974, is far from being fit for purpose in 2022.

Cybercrime is now by far the most prevalent type of crime. Considering that our children were unsafe if they were on the street, they are now more unsafe in their own rooms.

• Public expectations to fight crime cannot be met without sufficient funding, and the public, through politicians, must decide how much threat, harm and risk they are willing to tolerate.

Significant shortcomings in the police force persist and must be addressed. Crime is now often complex and much more sophisticated, and investigations can take much longer. If the police continue to use 20th century methods to try to cope with 21st century technology, they will continue to fall further and further behind.

Finally, the paper considers that the seriousness of the problems that the police service is now faced with should not be underestimated, but that the public should be reassured by the firm, pragmatic and professional approach of police officers and personnel.

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Counterfeit tobacco production flooding the French market dismantled in Slovenia

A tobacco production line that has filled the French market with millions of counterfeit cigarettes has been dismantled in Slovenia as a result of a complex investigation between the French and Slovenian authorities with the support of Europol.

Launched in October 2020, the investigation focused on an organised crime group involved in illicit tobacco production and distribution. After two successful action days in France in April and May 2021 targeting criminals involved in the distribution of these counterfeit cigarettes, the Slovenian authorities launched an investigation with the aim of arresting the suspects responsible for the production of these illegal products.

Following several coordination meetings between the French and Slovenian judicial and law enforcement authorities, under the supervision of Eurojust and Europol, it was agreed to organise an action day in Slovenia.

On January 25, 2022, more than one hundred officers of the Slovenian National Police Force (Policija) and Financial Administration (Finančna Uprava) raided eleven properties, including industrial premises and private residences. They were assisted in the field by officers of the French Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale), as well as by French magistrates of the Bordeaux Interregional Specialised Court (JIRS) and Europol officers.

This action made it possible to find different production sites set up in warehouses located in remote areas of Slovenia. In total, more than 26 tonnes of tobacco were seized, as well as 29 million filters, several machines for the manufacture of tobacco and ten tonnes of printed papers for packaging. The number of cigarettes that could have been produced with the seized goods would have had a value of 13 million euros on the French market.

Earlier in the same investigation, in November 2021, the Slovenian Financial Administration had seized an additional 12 tonnes of fine-cut tobacco.

Two leaders of the criminal network in charge of cigarette manufacturing were arrested under European arrest warrants, one in Croatia and one in Slovenia.

Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) supported the investigation by providing its secure communication platform and facilitating international cooperation between France, Slovenia and other member states, cross-checking and providing analytical support and operational expertise. One of its experts was sent to Maribor (Slovenia) to assist the national authorities on the same law enforcement action day.

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1,534 firearms seized in international operation against illegal trade

In an international operation coordinated by Europol, in a law enforcement initiative targeting the illegal arms trade, a total of 1,534 firearms have been seized. Some of these firearms had been tampered with, such as some detonator or blank firing pistols, which have become a weapon of choice for criminals because they can easily be converted to discharge live ammunition. Such a firearm is believed to have been used to kill the Dutch reporter in Amsterdam in July last year.

This operation, known as Conversus, was led by the Romanian National Police (Poliția Română) within the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT). It concentrated on an action week coordinated by Europol between 13-17 December 2021 and involved the police forces of 24 countries, alongside Eurojust and the European Commission.

These are the results of the operation:

  • House searches conducted: 260
  • Weapons seized: 1,534
  • Ammunition seized: 17,464
  • Pyrotechnics seized: 6,550 kg

Until recently, most of the weapons seized in Europe were imported into the European Union from Turkey. Since then, the Turkish authorities have changed their legislation to address this threat. Once in the EU, these firearms are usually purchased cheaply from legal markets, before being illegally trafficked to other countries where a permit is required to acquire, import and possess such firearms.

Europol’s action week was preceded by operational work at the beginning of the year to identify the buyers and dealers involved in this illegal trade. The Romanian Police, together with its counterparts in Bulgaria and North Macedonia, collected data on the sellers which was then analysed by Europol to identify buyers and suspicious transactions.

The following countries participated in this coordinated action: Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Belgium, Serbia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Estonia, Montenegro, Greece, Spain, France, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Switzerland, Norway, North Macedonia, Ukraine and Kosovo*.

In 2017 the European Council decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018-2021 period. It aims to address the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU member states, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organisations, including the private sector where relevant. There are currently ten EMPACT priorities. As of 2022, the mechanism becomes permanent under the name EMPACT 2022+.

* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244/99 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

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New worldwide operation to crack down on money laundering

The seventh campaign has recently been completed of the European Money Mule Action, or EMMA-7, which was set up in 2016 on the initiative of Europol, Eurojust and the European Banking Federation. The international operation recently completed was the largest of its kind ever held, and is based on the concept that the exchanging of information between the public and private sectors is the key to the combat against complex modern criminal activity.  Around 400 banks and financial institutions gave their support to the campaign, providing information about 7,000 fraudulent transactions and preventing a total loss estimated at nearly 70 million euros.

The investigation highlighted that money mules were laundering the profits of online fraud, by, for example, compromising commercial electronic mail operations or through fraudulent foreign currency transactions.

Some 1,803 arrests were made and over 18,000 suspected money mules were identified. It also showed that money mules were being used to launder cash from a wide range of online scams, such as exchanging SIM cards, fraudulent e-commerce transactions, and phishing (e-mail fraud).

During a period of operations lasting approximately two and a half months, EMMA-7 required police forces, financial institutions and private sector companies such as Western Union and Microsoft to cooperate in a concerted push against money laundering in Europe, Asia, North America, Colombia and Australia.  In addition to cracking down on money laundering through networks of money mules, the investigators also sought out information concerning the origins of these illicit profits, in order to throw more light on the scope and the nature of the criminal activities that employ the services of these money mules.

These were the results of the operation lasting from 15 September to 30 November:

• 18,351 money mules identified

• 324 recruiters identified

• 1,803 individuals arrested

• 2,503 investigations launched

• 7,000 fraudulent transactions reported

• 67.5 million euros of potential theft prevented

EMMA operates through participants from the private sector who report incidents of suspicious or potentially illegal financial conduct to the relevant police authorities. In the same way, the police authorities involved can also ask their partners in the financial sector to investigate suspected money mules. Through this collaboration, the police authorities can build up a profile of the money laundering networks and then decide in each case how to react to the activities of the suspected money mules.

EMMA provides an intermediary channel through which all the partners involved can communicate between themselves, sharing information that will help to identify suspected money mules and potentially lead to their arrest.

The majority of EMMA-7 investigations focused on international operations. The money mules’ activities involve not only the transfer of cash between countries, but also enable them to travel between different countries to open bank accounts in other countries.  The criminals can use these accounts later on so as to conduct the money laundering process. The complexity of these money mule operations and the police response to them reflect the ways in which money laundering networks are created. Money muling differs from many financial crimes in that it is possible for the perpetrators to be recruited without their knowledge. Organised crime groups exploit certain social groups such as students, migrants and persons with economic problems by offering them easy ways to make money through job advertisements and online publications that look legitimate.

Ignorance is not an excuse in legal terms, however, and money mules who launder the illicit earnings of organised crime are clearly breaking the law.

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INTERPOL: 1,000 arrests in the fight against online fraud

Police have arrested 1,003 people in 20 countries in recent months as part of an operation led by INTERPOL to tackle online financial crime, including “business email compromise” (BEC).

Law enforcement agencies in 20 countries made the arrests between June and September for various forms of online fraud such as romance scams, investment fraud and money laundering associated with online gambling. Some 2,350 bank accounts were blocked as part of INTERPOL’S HAECHI-II operation.

According to sources from the INTERPOL investigation, far from the common notion of online fraud as a relatively low-level type of criminality, the results of Operation HAECHI-II show that transnational organised crime groups have been using the Internet to extract millions of dollars from their victims before funnelling the illicit cash to bank accounts across the globe.

The operation specifically targeted BEC, which involves tricking employees into sending large sums of money to supposed suppliers or contractors, often using emails that appear to be sent by someone in a position of responsibility within the organisation.

The FBI estimates that business email compromise cost US companies USD 1.8 billion in 2020, dwarfing the USD 29 million lost to ransomware scams. The fraudsters have also adopted a part of the ransomware business and switched to a service-based model where the components are rented to different parties.

INTERPOL highlighted a case in Colombia, where a textile company found itself defrauded of more than USD 8 million by a business email compromise scam. The perpetrators impersonated the legal representative of the company, giving the order to transfer more than USD 16 million to two Chinese bank accounts. Half of the money was transferred before the company uncovered the fraud and alerted the Colombian judicial authorities, which in turn quickly contacted INTERPOL’s financial crime unit through their National Central Bureau in Bogotá.

INTERPOL worked through its offices in Beijing, Bogotá and Hong Kong to freeze the transferred funds. Intercepting the illicit proceeds of online financial crimes before they disappear into the pockets of money mules is a race against time.

BEC is an international banking problem that is difficult for law enforcement to deal with in all jurisdictions. The FBI set up the Recovery Asset Team (RAT) in February 2018 to manage communications between banks and FBI field offices in order to freeze funds in cases where victims have transferred money to national accounts. It has also worked with US consulates in foreign territories, such as Hong Kong, to freeze multimillion-dollar transfers to bank accounts in China.

Interpol points out that, in another case, a company in Slovenia was duped into transferring more than USD 800,000 to money mule accounts in China. The transfer was intercepted after the Slovenian Police contacted Interpol and were able to connect with its colleagues in Beijing.

Operation HAECHI-II involved the police forces of Angola, Brunei, Cambodia, Colombia, China, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Philippines, Romania, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Thailand, and Vietnam.

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Europol: action days against human trafficking

Between 8 and 12 November 2021, Europol lent its support to a series of large-scale international action days against human trafficking. The action days were coordinated by Europol and Frontex and involved 29 different countries, led by Austria and Romania.

More than 14,000 police officers took part in the action days, surveilling human trafficking routes on roads and at airports. Some 212 arrests were made and a further 89 people suspected of human trafficking were identified.

The aim of the action days was to combat the trafficking of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced criminality and forced begging. Europol coordinated the five action days from its 24-hour operations centre, which provided the participating countries with cross-checking of information, secure communication channels and a range of analytical capabilities throughout the operation. The action days took place under the aegis of the EMPACT security framework.

Results of the action days from 8 to 12 November:

• 212 arrests for offences such as human trafficking, money laundering, pimping and fraud.

• 147,668 people identified and 91,856 vehicles checked.

• 327 additional investigations launched.

The action days were designed to identify and arrest human trafficking suspects while they were travelling in Europe, and to identify and protect the victims of trafficking and prevent associated document fraud.

Europol coordinated the work of the national police forces, passenger information units, border guards and national agencies that combat human trafficking. A net was put in place around the travel routes, with national police and border agents performing roadside checks while the passenger information units checked airline passengers.

As a result, law enforcement agencies identified 593 adults and 57 minors – drawn from countries in four different continents – as potential victims of human trafficking. Police stations at EU airports were able to identify a large number of victims as being susceptible to trafficking and exploitation. The individuals identified were successfully referred to the United Kingdom’s National Referral Mechanism or returned to their countries of origin, and given police assistance or checks upon their return.

There were also seizures of goods, such as fake driving licences, weapons and drugs. The information gathered during these action days has resulted in the opening of 327 new cases, as well as the potential identification of new human trafficking suspects. This enhanced cooperation between EU agencies, national law enforcement and organisations such as the passenger information units will pave the way for similar investigations into these serious criminal activities in the future.

The law enforcement agencies also targeted a wide range of potential locations for human trafficking, such as bars, brothels, nightclubs, massage parlours, nail bars and strip clubs. This diverse selection of targets was the result of investigations showing that traffickers were using a variety of methods to recruit their victims and threatening violence against the victims’ relatives.

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The Europol global taskforce identifies eighteen victims of sexual abuse

A total of eighteen children have been provisionally identified and two suspected offenders have been arrested as a result of Europol’s 10th Victim Identification Taskforce (VIDTF) operation. Nine of these young victims have already been rescued by the competent authorities, with investigations continuing to safeguard the other victims.

The VIDTF is a Europol initiative that this year brought together specialists from 26 countries and associated agencies to identify victims and offenders in cases of child sexual abuse.

Between 25 October and 5 November 2021, these experts reviewed some 580 sets of images and video files representing unknown victims of child sexual abuse, including in some cases infants only a few days old. They were backed up by Europol specialists and intelligence analysts in relation to the fight against the sexual exploitation of children.

In addition to the identification of the 18 children, in 211 other cases the probable countries at the origin of the crimes were identified, and intelligence studies have been set in motion in the countries concerned in order to investigate them.

Since 2014, Europol has periodically brought together victim identification specialists from all over the world to concentrate on unresolved cases of  child sexual abuse.

The VIDTF is the largest continuous operation of its kind in the world and has inspired a series of similar initiatives on a national or regional scale, including operations carried out in countries such as Italy and Australia.

To date, all the VIDTF operations combined have led to the following results:

• The participation of 290 specialists from over 35 countries.

• The probably country of origin has been identified in 1,726 cases.

As a result of all the VIDTF operations, over 533 children have been protected and 182 suspected offenders have been arrested.

It is possible to collaborate to identify the origin of specific objects as part of Europol’s “Trace an Object” initiative. The details of the images extracted from child sexual abuse cold cases are made public on a regular basis, in the hope that somebody may recognise a detail that will help to find the victim’s location.

A total of 27,000 tips have been sent to Europol so far, which have led to the identification of 23 children and to prosecutions being brought against five suspected offenders.

Europol has recently published a new set of images in the hope that they will be identified by the general public.

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INTERPOL carries out full-scale drone countermeasure exercise

INTERPOL and the Norwegian police have carried out a three-day exercise to test and evaluate anti-drone measures in a secure air space in the Norwegian capital.

The exercise, carried out in real-life conditions in Oslo in late September, brought together law enforcement, academia and industry experts from Europe, Israel and the United States to test and assess 17 drone countermeasures to ensure the safety of an airport environment through the detection, monitoring and identification of the drones and their pilots.

Such systems are becoming vital to ensure the security of airports and airspace, and also the protection of air exclusion zones above cities, prisons and essential infrastructures.

All measures were evaluated and classified in accordance with specific criteria. The results will be integrated into an INTERPOL framework of anti-drone measures, access to which will be granted to the organisms responsible for policing from the 194 member countries of Interpol, so as to create a worldwide platform for collaboration and the exchange of information. 

The exercise was held at Gardermoen Airport in Oslo while the airport continued to operate normally. Because of the complexity of the exercise, the event required close collaboration between the entity responsible for the management of the airport (Avinor), the Norwegian Communications Authority, the Directorate-General for Civil Aviation, and the organisation for unmanned air systems UAS Norway, in order to guarantee that all the systems and tests complied with the required standard and did not affect the operations of the airport itself.

In addition to the exercises, workshops and presentations concerning the drone incursions were also held with a view to gathering evidence. During these sessions, the participants exchanged best practices and discussed potential future solutions to the problems posed by drone incursions.

Anti-drone measures are essential to protect airspace and will become more and more important as member countries proceed to regulate the use of drones and the management of airspace.

While measures may serve to detect, identify and locate drones within a specific area, in many countries there is no legislation in force to enable the authorities to intercept a drone that is in full flight. This situation constitutes a huge challenge for the organisms responsible for enforcing the law, for public administrations and those responsible for the management of airspace, and points to a clear need to better understand the danger posed by drones and to develop guidelines and mechanisms to transmit the information received.

INTERPOL Innovation Centre is participating in the European-funded Project Courageous, and aims to prepare a European framework for the selection, testing and evaluation of anti-drone measures for policing purposes.

In May 2020 the Innovation Centre published its Intervention framework for incidents involving drones, intended for front-line teams and digital forensic laboratories, and brings together every year key participants from all over the world to form part of Interpol’s drone platform.

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The police authorities in the United Kingdom call for an end to the “macho canteen culture” found within the police

The police authorities in the United Kingdom have called for an end to the macho, sexist, misogynist and homophobic “canteen culture” found within the police in order to try to regain the trust of society as a whole.

John Apter, the National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, who represents over 130,000 police officers, has recognised that in the police forces in the United Kingdom, women officers are subjected to sexist nicknames and disparaging remarks, and added that such behaviour had to be brought to an end, according to a report published a few days ago in the British newspaper the Sunday Times.

Apter added that it is essential to maintain public trust in the police, and that it therefore had to be accepted that there was a problem as the only way to deal with it.

After Wayne Couzens was found guilty of the murder of Sarah Everard, aged 33, the country’s police forces were described as institutionally misogynist by a former head of the Nottinghamshire police, Susannah Fish. Fish stated that she had herself been sexually assaulted by colleagues while working as a police officer. Cultural changes are never easy, and this is not true only in the case of the police, but just because a situation is difficult to change does not mean that an attempt should not be made. Taking no action is not an option.

Wayne Couzens was sentenced to life imprisonment for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, after she had disappeared while she was returning home from a friend’s house in South London. At the time, Couzens was an on-duty police officer and used his police badge and handcuffs to kidnap her.

Apter declared that this terrible murder had damaged society’s trust in the police. Everybody in the police needed to tackle this problem. It was not enough to say that these were the actions of an evil man who deserved to rot in jail.

It had to be shown, not only through words but also through actions, that sexism and misogyny have absolutely no place in any police force.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct announced that five police officers from four different regional police forces were facing disciplinary measures for messages shared on the social networks concerning Everard’s murder.

John Apter added that misogyny was a problem not only for women, but for everyone. Only too often such incidents were passed over in silence, and such inaction meant officers were failing each other and wider society.

There was a need to consign to the history books this canteen culture where sexist nicknames and derogatory remarks were made. When joking crossed the line to become sexist, derogatory or homophobic it ceased to be joking, and this is when it was necessary to react.

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