Soca to 'melt' into new National Crime Agency

The government has outlined policing reforms that will set up a large national agency that will take over the cybercrime work of Soca and other bodies
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

The government has announced a major re-organisation of policing in England that will change which law enforcement agencies deal with cybercrime.

Home secretary Theresa May on Monday introduced the Policing in the 21st Century programme in the House of Commons, outlining what she called the "most radical reforms to policing in at least 50 years".

"A new National Crime Agency will lead the fight against organised crime, protect our borders and provide services best delivered at a national level," May said in a statement. "This powerful new body will harness and exploit the intelligence, analytical and enforcement capabilities of the existing Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and better connect these capabilities to those within the police service, HM Revenue and Customs, the UK Border Agency and a range of other criminal justice partners."

The National Crime Agency (NCA) will comprise a number of operational commands headed by a chief constable, May added.

The reforms will see the new agency take over responsibility for investigating incidents of organised cybercrime that are reported by businesses. At the moment, businesses can report incidents of e-crime, such as hacking and online fraud, to a number of organisations including their local police authority and the Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU), which is part of the Metropolitan Police. Incidents that involve organised crime are then investigated by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca).

Soca "is going to be melted into this larger agency", a Home Office spokesperson told ZDNet UK. "The view is that the NCA will take over Soca's role."

In its annual report published on 20 July, Soca described its efforts working with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, as well as public and private sector bodies, on combating cybercrime. One of its successes in the past year was the conviction in February of three members of the DarkMarket online forum, for example. The accounts in the report indicate that Soca costs about £475,000 to run in the year.

The agency has faced with a lack of coherent cybercrime reporting platforms, as much of the data held by law agencies exists in disparate forms, Paul Hoare, head of operations and e-crime senior manager for Soca, explained to ZDNet UK in June.

When it comes to local authorities and the PCeU, the Home Office said that their role in reporting of incidents remains the same "certainly for the moment", and that the new chain of responsibility for cybercrime is "a level of detail that has not been decided yet".

The policing reforms also call for the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) to be dissolved. The NPIA is charged with improving police capability, for example, through better use of technology. The agency's functions will be divided up between the Home Office and the NCA, and it will be phased out by 2012.

Other elements of the reform plan include encouraging the public to become more involved in policing via Neighbourhood Watch schemes and meetings with local police, and the introduction by May 2012 of elected officials, known as Police and Crime Commissioners, to oversee police forces.

The government has begun a public consulatation on its new policing policy, and it expects to include many of the measures in a Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill that will be introduced in the autumn.

ZDNet UK's Tom Espiner contributed to this report.

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