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SOC policing: mind the pay gap

Regional Organised Crime Units and the NCA both have high staff attrition rates and issues with sustainable funding. Gary Mason explores why
Published - 11/02/2021 By - Gary Mason

Last week in the House of Commons Shadow Home Office Minister Conor McGinn asked what had happened to former Met Deputy Commissioner Sir Craig Mackey’s review into the policing response to  serious and organised crime.

The Government received Sir Craig’s report in February last year and the House were told in June that the report’s recommendations were "being considered." But since then not a peep. We do not know the details of his report.

In reply policing minister Kit Malthouse gave a rather vague response that mentioned the pandemic, the go-to explanation for all the nation’s ills.

But the HoC question was timely as there appears to be serious recruitment and retention issues around the agencies that are responsible for policing and enforcement relating to SOC.

Yesterday HMICFRS published a report that painted a bleak picture of the funding and recruitment and retention of staff in the Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) set up.

ROCUs were established in 2009 and there are nine units across England and Wales. Each serve between three and seven constituent forces. The Met, City of London Police and BTP do not currently have a ROCU, though this is being reconsidered.

What is not in doubt is that ROCUs have grown considerably and are far bigger organisations now than they were when they were first established. The problem is that resources and staffing have not matched that growth.

Police forces contribute towards the cost of maintaining their ROCU and most also contribute officers, staff and equipment. This often includes providing some HR and finance support.

Under the Crime and Courts Act 2013, the National Crime Agency is only empowered to task police forces, not ROCUs.

According to HMIC these “anomalies in the governance and tasking process” mean the NCA and ROCUs are less effective at making sure the highest threats are prioritised, and the right resources deployed to tackle them.

Some forces are reluctant to co-operate on recruiting into ROCUs and there is a national shortage of specialist skills, not helped by the shortage of detectives. Once forces have reached their quota, their officers and staff cannot apply for vacant ROCU posts. This undermines the ability of the ROCUs to select from the best pool of candidates from across the region, the inspectorate warned.

All the ROCUs inspected highlighted staffing problems, most of them related to funding.

We are still awaiting the findings of Sir Craig's review into SOC

The report says short-term funding affects recruitment and retention and results in a continuous struggle to keep some essential posts filled. More than half of one ROCU’s disruption team left in the absence of confirmation that short-term funding would be renewed. Staff had already moved on by the time extended funding was confirmed. The report notes that the wellbeing of staff in such posts is affected when they are not notified until very late whether their contract will be renewed.

The primary functions of each ROCU are to provide a range of specialist capabilities to forces and to lead the regional response to SOC.

These include covert operations, surveillance, undercover policing, confidential unit, regional asset recovery team, cyber, operational security, government agency intelligence network, prison intelligence and SOC operations

But ROCUs find it difficult to retain staff with specialist skills, particularly in cyber-crime, because policing salaries are not competitive with the private sector.

£6k more working across the road

In all ROCUs inspected, there was evidence that rates of pay among police staff made it hard to attract and retain them. Some ROCUs are co-located with, or near to,

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