If criminals began to deal new and more powerful illegal drugs, would you expect the police to develop new ways of detecting them?
If offenders gained widespread access to new and more powerful firearms, would you expect the police to develop better protective equipment?
And, if they began to use faster vehicles, might you expect the police to have the ability to keep up with them?
The answer to each of these questions is almost certainly a resounding ‘yes’.
But when it comes to the increasingly sophisticated use of the internet by criminals who are developing new ways to commit crime, things seem to get more complicated when police ask to be allowed to keep up with them.
I hear cries of a ‘snoopers’ charter’ in answer to the proposals for new powers designed to combat internet – based crime which, I think everyone knows, is rising at an alarming rate.
Sophisticated use of computer and communications technology to commit crime is not confined to James Bond films or terrorism, the reality is that criminals, including paedophiles, share significant amounts of information online and some are very computer savvy – often these are the people we need to apprehend the most.
Likewise, organised gangs distribute drugs and firearms using the internet as their means of communication.
There are also increasingly sophisticated frauds which are being carried out, and I do not mean the spam emails which many of us receive, but determined attempts to steal huge amounts of money.
The stark reality which faces us is this – the police have firearms in order to help deter armed criminality.
We have access to shields and protective clothing so that we can go into difficult situations, such as a riot, and stop it spreading elsewhere.
If we do not have the right tools to do the job then sooner or later we will not be able to protect the public from criminals.
The same argument applies to use of the internet. Unless we have the power, in correct circumstances, to see who is sharing photos with who, or who is communicating with who, via Facebook or other means, we will reach a point where criminals will have the advantage, and make no mistake, they will exploit it ruthlessly.
I have no problem with the proposal that any new power granted to the police should be subject to very significant independent scrutiny.
That is why the UK is not a ‘police state’ – there are lots of means by which we are held accountable for what we do.
Adding another means of oversight will not cause me any discomfort whatsoever.
If it needs a Court Order or permission from a judge it is fine by me.
Decisions have to be made about giving the police the necessary powers to protect the public or risk creating an environment where the police are not able to provide that protection and we will all be at risk of suffering the consequences.
As for the so-called ‘snoopers’ charter’, contrary to views expressed in some circles, the police simply do not have the time or resource to monitor random internet communications.
However, we do need the ability to keep up with serious criminals in the technological arms race.
* David Crompton, South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable