Home secretary Theresa May has announced plans to allow police to draft in civilian volunteers to help them solve cybercrime in England and Wales.
The updates to the Policing and Crime Bill will give volunteers powers for the first time without having to become a Special Constable. In fact, volunteers will be designated with powers in the same way as permanent staff for the first time, according to the Home Office.
"Police officers across the country carry out a wide range of duties, keeping the public safe and ensuring justice for the most vulnerable members of society. We value the essential role they play, but they cannot do this on their own,” said May in a statement.
"We want to help forces to create a more flexible workforce, bring in new skills and free up officers' time to focus on the jobs only they can carry out."
IT and accountancy skills are in particularly high demand and are the first areas where forces will be encouraged to seek help from volunteers.
There are currently around 16,000 special constables in England and Wales – with all the powers of their ‘regular’ colleagues. However, there are thousands of Police Support Volunteers who have no such powers at present – something the proposed amendments to the law will change.
“We want to encourage those with skills in particular demand, such as those with specialist IT or accountancy skills, to work alongside police officers to investigate cyber or financial crime, and help officers and staff fight crime more widely,” said May.
However, experts were unsure whether police forces would be able to source the cyber security skills they need from volunteers.
“The announcement implies there are large quantities of trained infosec personnel out there that are willing and able to help for free, which simply isn’t the case,” argued Thomas Fischer, principal threat researcher at Digital Guardian.
“For many years the infosecurity industry has faced a recruitment drought. As a result, individuals that do meet the required training standards are highly sought-after assets, likely to be in well-paid positions, with very little time to do volunteer work on the side.”