Nine new financial investigators have been recruited by South Yorkshire Police in an attempt to give the force added muscle against criminals by seizing more of their illegal assets.
The new staff are currently being trained but the expectation is that each of the county’s four district policing teams will eventually have its own financial investigator to work on local cases, building on the success of the recently re-introduced CID departments in Sheffield and the county’s three other towns.
Details of the policy were explained at a meeting of South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings’ Public Accountability Board, where he holds Chief Constable Stephen Watson and his force to account over its performance.
Assistant Chief Constable Tim Forber said: “I think it is an area we can exploit to a much bigger degree, asset seizure.”
Legislation has been in place for many years which allows the authorities to seize assets which can be identified as the profits from crime.
Under the Proceeds of Crime Act, some of the money seized through the courts goes back to police to help further investigative work, with some going into state funds.
But the impact of such seizures is more important than just propping up police funding, because it is acknowledged that criminals who have been stripped of their wealth find it harder to re-establish themselves as major offenders when they lack the money to bankroll new activity.
The new staff are from a series of backgrounds and ACC Forber said: “They are from a variety of different professions, some are internal, some are external.
“Our plan is that eventually four will be working in the districts.
“We really want to push the idea of seizing assets and taking money off criminals, so it becomes par for the course.”
People traffickers and those involved in modern slavery are likely to be major targets for police investigators, where offenders can make large amounts of money through exploiting and abusing others.
The work is often complex because investigators have to trace the money involved, with many criminals attempting to ‘launder’ the money they make to create the appearance to outside observers that it is legitimate or cannot be linked back to its source.
Unless an offender accepts the findings of their work, they then have to convince a court that their investigations are accurate.
In cases where offenders refuse to pay back money they are deemed to owe, the courts can impose substantial jail sentences.
The expansion comes as the Government has announced £48m funding to help crack down on serious and organised crime, including money to help the work of the National Economic Crime Centre and employ more police financial investigators, alongside additional officers to work in the National Crime Agency, which focuses on the country’s biggest criminals.
A concern for the authorities is that criminal money is spent on sales more normally associated with respectability, such as public school fees and high end cars, with a warning to businesses that more stringent investigations will follow.