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JILT 1999 (2) - Stuart Hyde






Police use of the Internet


The Current Level of use by UK Police



Provision of Information


Information Gathering


Other Uses


An Average UK Police web site


Comparison with the US




Police ISP Co-operation





Appendix: A Whistle Stop Tour of Police Sites

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A Few Coppers Change

Stuart Hyde
Detective Superintendent
West Yorkshire Police


This paper sets out to discuss the ability of the UK police service to respond to the increase in activity across the Internet. It includes a summary of the current UK Police use of web sites compared with other Police sites in the US and a discussion of the police response to Internet crime.

The paper will discuss police perceptions of the Internet as well as opportunities for its use by the police in the UK. Greater use for direct contact with the public, reporting of criminal activity and for addressing media issues will help the service to appreciate the benefits of the Internet. There is also a need to enhance the ability of officers to use the Internet at an operational level including a requirement to train police staff in investigation techniques.

The UK police service may not be exploiting the Internet as much as it could and is missing some of the business benefits as the service fails to appreciate the value of maximising communications through the Internet and preparing its staff for greater flexibility in Investigation techniques.

Creating an environment of change in the police service to accommodate the Internet will require imaginative and innovative decision making at Corporate level. Our current focus on 'best value' and efficiency may be seen as a barrier to increasing the use of the Internet rather than the reasons for its growth within the Police Service.

This is a Commentary published on 30 June 1999.

Citation: Hyde S, 'A Few Coppers Change', Commentary 1999 (2) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT) . <>. New citation as at 1/1/04: <>

1. Introduction

Over the past five years there has been a growth in discussion of the Police involvement in the Internet. This has ranged from discussions about whether the Police should have the ability to view electronic mail, ranging through the role of the Police in preventing people from publishing paedophilic and pornographic images, through to the role of the Police in investigating hacking offences against commercial and public bodies.

There has been little work on how the Police Service take advantage of the technology of the Internet in order to help provide a better service to the public and more importantly to each other. The Internet provides a massive communications possibility for the Police. Improvements in communication both between Police Forces and Police officers, and between the Police and the public could lead to a major change in the way the Police operates in the future.

2. Police use of the Internet

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police who are seen as leading the light in the use of the Internet for the Police, identified over five years ago a number of areas through which the Police could benefit. The conclusions of some early work identified six recommendations for the Police.[ 1]

1. The use of the Internet for Police to Police information exchange on the topics of unclassified Police procedure or technical matters.

2. The exchange of general information with the public.

3. Showing of criminal and safety information with the public.

4. Police F.T.P. servers for general Police techniques and information.

5. Reaching the 'experts' on the Internet.

6. The promotion of Police fraternity and camaraderie.

These six recommendations can be used as the basis for our discussion of the current UK Police ability to grasp the business benefits of the Internet.

A number of evolving opportunities were identified in 1995 these include an exchange of information, the use of Police related chat lines, the benefits to small Forces of being able to exchange and share information both locally and regionally, posting of wanted people, information concerning message boards and news groups such as 'Cop Net'.[2]

Some difficulties have already been identified, particularly viruses and the publics wish to challenge electronic security measures both for pleasure and for crime. An example of a modern virus infecting a current Police site would be the 'happy 99' virus which was inadvertently distributed across the International Cop Net Group in 1999.[3] Even in 1995 a clear need was demonstrated, within the service, to be able to identify senders of electronic mail. This is perhaps the area in which the Police will need to develop skills and abilities that are currently not held at an operational level.[4]

Using the Net and exploiting current technology provides us with many opportunities. There is no doubt that 'while the criminal threat posed is real, the Internet can also serve as an effective tool for the criminal justice community'.

Opportunities to communicate with our customers if managed properly, will provide the Police Service in the UK with a much more efficient and effective method of operation. The FBI web site[5] is probably the most popular law enforcement site in use today. In 1997 was attracting 3.6 million accesses per month[6]. This equates with three hundred public contacts for each of the Bureau's eleven thousand agents. Clearly within the UK there should be scope for such diverse and impactive public contact. Within the US where Forces range from the very large, for example Los Angeles Police Department[7] to the very small[8], most Forces have their own web sites and make far better use of the sites than those currently managed by UK Police Forces.

Recently the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), the National Crime Squad and some Forces, have started to use the Internet as an investigation tool. Only last year NCIS and Europol were explaining the benefits of undercover addresses and the advantage of maintaining links to other sites for the benefit both of Police staff and the public alike[9]. For Europol access to news agencies reduced manual tasks considerably. It was felt that providing access to databases would provide the Europol site with much information for its staff and for its customers.

There is concern, however, that the Internet does contain pornographic and paedophilic images and there is an accepted requirement for society to protect itself against abuse whether sexual, physical and economic. The Internet like any other part of society is susceptible to such abuse. However, concerns most often expressed relate to the ease of access to such images, likewise the ease with which criminals can access information, post spurious information or vindictive and aggressive viruses easily cause media hype. This is often mostly due to its unusual nature rather than through the economic or physical damage caused.

Victim Support Organisations are quite rightly concerned that whilst violent and aggressive images are easily accessible within the Internet, there appears little to protect the interest of victims. A search using the term 'Crime' provides many informative web sites, but will also provide highly explicit images of death and destruction[ 10]. There is a fine line between the freedom of an individual to express their own thoughts, feelings and emotions and the need to protect potential victims from further abuse or to identify those people who have been deliberately abusing people, either sexually, emotionally or economically.

The role of the Police in protecting society from crime and criminality does extend to the Internet. How the Police Service in the UK wishes to react to this demand and more particularly how it is able to react to this demand, will provide the focus of much debate over the next few years.

3. The Current Level of use by UK Police

Police sites within the UK held under the '' domain have been considered to act as a bench mark for the current level of Police interest in the Internet. Taking the earlier research on the potential use of the Internet, we can compare the current Force web site both with the earlier research and later guidance provided by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)[11]. A review of Police web sites will identify a number of Forces who currently have no web site within the '' domain. A summary of the sites as they were displayed in early March 1999 is produced as part of this paper. All force sites can be accessed through <>.

In it's Internet Security Guidelines ACPO/PITO identifies three areas of use for the Police Service.

1. The provision of information.
2. The gathering of information.
3. Other uses

3.1 The Provision of Information

Most Forces who had web sites were able to meet the proposed uses under the heading of 'Provision of Information'. These include:

1. Force Strategy

2. Annual Reports

3. Performance Indicators

4. Policing Plans

5. Statistics

6. Contact Points

7. Traffic Information

8. Media Circulations

9. Income generation

Several sites maintained information concerning contact points, though the vast majority of these related to telephone numbers.

Several Forces provided information concerning press releases, this will be something to be discussed later in the paper.

3.2 Information Gathering

The ACPO report discusses a number of options and suggestions summarised as follows:

1. Intelligence gathering.
2. Investigation of crime.
3. Crime Stoppers.
4. Research.

There are very few if any examples of intelligence gathering through the Internet on any Police web site within the UK.

Several Forces have established access to Crime Stoppers though these usually consist of photographs and phone number contact points.

Very few forces have provided information concerning research in particular there are very few sites with links to other criminal justice agencies or even police forces.

Within Force websites there is scope for including research into the Police Service, research by Police staff or collaborative research currently being undertaken between Police and other organisations. Likewise it could include the possibility of customer surveys on line. There are no examples of this within the '' domains.

3.3 Other Uses

The ACPO report suggest a basket of other uses not linked by any common factor:

1. E-mail.
2. Major Incidents.
3. Bulletin boards.

Very few sites have the facility to provide direct E-mail to Police Forces. This is despite the fact that access would normally be via a third party ISP.

Some sites make mention of major incidents and give accounts of recent events, however, these are not usually substantial and often out of date. There was little evidence of bulletin boards or discussion groups concerning local policing.

Several Force sites had comment forms merely to provide comments on the web site rather than about policing in the locality.

4. An Average UK Police web site

The usual web site for a Police Force within the UK would be a professionally laid out site with reference to the Force Strategy and annual report, and would invariably include a message from the Chief Constable and his/her photograph. There is likely to be some information about Crime Stoppers and media input and there is likely to be information concerning telephone numbers and perhaps maps of the geographic divisions covered within the Force.

Exceptionally a Police web site may include some operational information and perhaps crime prevention advice, though it should be stated that very few sites have anything other than media output to link it to current operational policing. There are some examples of imaginative work, including access to a missing persons web site[12], information concerning millennium preparations[13], publishing the Force newspaper[14] and a virtual enquiry office[15]. Very few web sites provide information concerning links to other Police Forces, other than within the UK or externally and very few sites provide links to other law enforcement or other criminal justice web sites.

5. Comparison with the US

In order to provide a bench mark, I have selected at random a number of Police departments within the US. I have chosen at random some small Forces and some large more popular Forces.

Three small Forces, the University of South Alabama Police Department, Appleton PD and Leicester PD include information about the following:

1. E-mail contact facility.

2. Links to outside organisations.

3. Victim Support safety tips.

4. Forces history.

5. Articles on Police futurism.

6. Current news items.

7. A Cyber Station.

8. Information about drugs programmes.

9. Tips and guns safety.

10. As well as several FAQ's.

Larger Forces such as Massachusetts State[16], Louisiana State[17 ] or California Highway Patrol (Chips)[18], include wanted missing, resources available, research information, both within the Police and outside, scams perpetrated on the Internet, children's pages, emergency information, articles on motorcycle safety, in memoriam and all press releases found in databases.

Most Sites include good links into other organisations and provide good information that is up to date and relevant to the Service.

Most provide facilities for the customer to make use of the web site in an interactive way.

There is clearly a need to revisit the use of Police web sites within the UK in order to maximise their potential, not least of all to allow our own staff to understand the benefits of managing Police communication on the Internet.

It is the wide chasm that exists between the UK provision of web sites and our cousins across the Atlantic that demonstrates the need for the UK Police to develop better use of their sites.

6. Investigation

There has been much debate concerning the perceived role of the Police regarding the investigation of crime on the Internet. Some writers believe that the Police service seeks to have a blanket authority to view electronic mail and all information relating to web sites. This is perhaps an argument based on the perception that the Police Service has no other commitments and no other demands apart from those aggrieved by abuse of or through the Internet. A natural suspicion against snooping and a mistrust in the service could excuse the demands made by some to restrict the police ability to find information about users. Likewise the Internet developed despite the state rather than through it, and so the co-operative and flexible regimes of the web can be seen in contrast to the structures and regimented control of the police service and law enforcement generally.

Current legislation allows the police to seek information formally from Internet service providers in the same way we obtain information from mobile phone companies or credit card companies. ISP's, like the other commercial concerns, have a vested interest in ensuring that their products and services are provided without unlawful contamination whether by fraud, malice or mistake. The commercial interests of ISP's are not served by maintaining sites on those servers full of paedophiliac images and/or abusive E-mail.

Aggrieved people who have been subject to E-mail abuse can refer their concerns to ISP help lines such as <> or <>. Most aggrieved people will usually find that abusive E-mail issues can be resolved by ISP's quickly and effectively without police intervention. Where that abuse, however, becomes criminal, for example where a fraud is committed or an E-mail constitutes racial incitement, then working with the ISP's, the Police Service is able to investigate. The boundary between a need for police or law enforcement intervention, and the ISP intervention is a fluid one.

The controls already in place both economic and legal will prevent the wholesale abuse of Internet privacy by the Police Service. These controls relate to the requirements of the Data Protection Act, The Police Act and the Interception of Communications Act.

7. Police ISP Co-operation

For many years the Police Service have been driven by a need to develop its relationships with outside organisations, particularly those in providing a public service. Our relationship with ISP's is no different and levels of co-operation whilst at an early stage, are generally very good[19].

The issue to be addressed at this stage is not whether the legislation and or the co-operation is available, but the ease with which Internet crime or Internet abuse can be reported and or investigated by the Police Service today.

A recent seminar covering a number of likely scenarios using Police staff, demonstrated the difficulties, misunderstandings and confusion that could exist, when the Police Service is presented with crime that has occurred on or through the Internet.

Educating our own staff to consider Internet related offences and incidents as 'normal work', will be a great task.

To those deeply embedded in the world of the Internet, such practical issues may seem over stated. However, at an operational level, confidence in first contact staff being able to identify the type of problem raised and to be able to respond appropriately, is a question which has not yet been addressed.

The Police Service has tended to isolate itself from the Internet and considered the Internet to be an area of major security risk. This will help to explain the lack of innovation with the '' web sites. As a result it has tended to over compensate with rules and regulation to discourage use of the Internet rather than to encourage it.

One Force business case, for example, outlining its need for an Internet access has created a business plan which severely restricts the free use of the Internet. Where staff wish to establish an untraceable E-mail account, approval is sought of the Data Protection Officer and the Force Solicitor notwithstanding the fact that such people would not be contacted for similar, non electronic, activities.

Whilst this may protect the individuals, it misses the point concerning the Internet, in that the Internet is a free and accessible entity where normal policing systems can be applied. Today, where E-mail accounts can be established free from supermarkets or from phone companies, such control and restriction seems already archaic and disproportionate when compared with 'normal' yet similar policing situations.

8. Conclusions

The Police service within the UK is not in a position to embark on the wholesale snooping that some authors fear. The lack of activity within force web sites demonstrates the clear need for national and local development. The police ability to respond to Internet crime is currently haphazard and based on luck rather than a prepared and researched provision of a service to the public.

Yet despite the lack of drive and enthusiasm for investigation skills and resources there is a building relationship between the Police and ISP's that is flexible, legal and valued.

9. Recommendations

1. Police use of the Internet should be expanded to reflect the public's greater.

2. First contact staff should be able to identify the correct procedure for managing complaints made by the public.

3. Officers should be given the confidence to use the Internet and help develop their skills.

4. The police service needs to maintain and improve the relationship with ISP's in particular clear lines of access and expectations should be drawn.

5. Finally the Police Service should not shy away from greater involvement through the Internet and should be part of the ongoing debate.

Appendix: A Whistle Stop Tour of Police Sites

This document outlines a very brief summary of the content of police web sites under ''. They can all be accessed through the <> web site which is managed by the MMM group.

This report does not include individual sites set up outside of the use of ''.



No web site.


Has a News Page; Crimestoppers; Sales and Marketing; and several advertisements. There are no contact facilities. Photo of Chief Constable.


Large number of sections covering Divisions and Departments; Force Newspaper with job section, news and articles on excellence and best value. There are no contact facilities.


Serious crime. Links to others. Chief Constable. Murders Crimestoppers. Charter Web page comments only.




This site contains Crimestoppers; a virtual museum; kids index; facility for e-mail; search facility; reference to all departments and divisions; and includes a feedback and contact page.



Large number of images - includes priorities; locations; statistics; history; jobs; maps; and phone numbers.

North Yorkshire


West Yorkshire

NH Watch Specials Crimestoppers. Intro Newsround. Football news. Order CD-ROM by link.


Contains Annual Report; Policing Plan; a kids page; map; safety information on drugs - but no contact facility.

South Yorkshire

Up to date. Phone contacts only. What's new. Facts and figs. Districts. LINKS. Appeals. Comments on site only.


Is being re-designed - should be available 'in early 99'.


Chiefs greeting. Information. Operational Information. Questionnaire. Crimestoppers. Murders.



Has a large crest which slows up the site tremendously. Includes Policing Plan; Annual Report; history; charter; and a facility to contact by E-mail only through to the Press office.










Chief Constable's message; contact numbers for telephone only; information about policing roles including the Policing Plan.


West Mercia

Divisions. Crimestoppers. Email to Marketing Dept only. Crime Prevention. Partnerships. Merchandise. Road Safety.


Introductory page; Policing Plan; maps of area; information about Force strategy; Headquarters and Divisions including names and telephone numbers.

West Midlands

A Welcome Page; information on Police Authority; Policing Plan; Annual Report; Crimestoppers; feedback facility only for the website E-mail to mailmaster at WMP.




Has information about the Force; picture of Chief Constable; quality; purpose; careers information; finance; news and localities; no contact.


Last updated 27 May 1998. Site is described as 'temporary'. Information re 'get in touch' by phone only. No E-mail.


Thames Valley

Site managed by Police Authority. Includes Policing Plan, Annual Report - most of which relates to 1996. E-mail facility to Police Authority.


E-mail facility plus phone numbers; message from Chief Constable. Very up to date information re crime and community and crime prevention.


Annual Report; map; community site; links to other sites; recruitment, including information about service; missing children link to <>.


Statement of purpose; Chief Constable's message; area map; including Annual Report; Millennium preparations; contact by E-mail only to website.


No force site but Division at Thanet has own site.


E-mail facility but not crime; news and community; Policing Plan; Annual Report; copy of Force Newspaper; Force priorities.


'Can You Help' page including Crimestoppers, stolen goods and serious incidents. Very up to date. Force news and links to local youth organisations.


Very good site with facts - 'Who?', 'Where?'; news; recruitment; Crimestoppers; a virtual enquiry office; Divisions; maps and up to date news releases. Contact via E-mail to media.



Recruitment; Annual Report; Divisions; Specials; Crime Prevention; Photo of Chief Constable; Crimestoppers; Feedback facility via E-mail.


Aims and objectives; spending plan; how to keep Wiltshire safe.

Avon and Somerset

Policing Plan; how to tackle crime; Annual Report; Crimestoppers; Welcome page; crime prevention and how to contact police stations by phone; E-mail form return only. Division at North Somerset has own site.

Devon and Cornwall

Profile of Force; Specials; targets; crime prevention; schools; picture of Chief Constable.


Metropolitan Police

News; history; education; extensive search engine. Each Division has its own site; feedback; crime prevention - large website Force paper 'The Job'.

City of London

Current advice for terrorism and Counterfeit crime.

These can be compared with a number of Forces selected at random from USA by placing 'USA' and 'Police' and 'Sites' in a search engine. A number of Forces were highlighted:


This is the University Police Department for South Alabama. It has 25 officers. It has an E-mail facility, links to a number of organisations, including '' and Victim Support. Safety tips and information about the Force.

2. Appleton PD, Wisconsin

This has information on gathering news; promotions within the Force; programmes run by the Force; Force history; Wanted; Missing; and many articles on police futurism; link to <>.

3. Leicester PD

The Leicester Police Cyberstation including Newsletter, information about DARE, tips, gun safety, FAQ, and numerous links.

4. Massachusetts State

Includes: Wanted; Missing; information about State Academy; Resources; research information; news; activities; and a good coverage of scams perpetrated over the Internet.

5. Louisiana State

Includes: E-mail; Contact Divisions and public information including phone directories, children's page, safety and emergency information.

6. Lunenburg Police MA

This has 40 officers. It includes resources, links to other states, missing people, phone numbers, contacts, an officers' page including information about officers, a news page and a search engine for all police sites.

7. California Highway Patrol

This has an FAQ and motorcycle safety section, facilities for contacting; in memoriam; all Press releases; and all incidents involving CHP.


1. Police use of the Internet: Inspector Len Babin RCMP Ottawa 1994.

2. Copnet is a closed Police newsgroup available to Law Enforcement agencies across the world.

3. This virus was inadvertently posted through Copnet but members were advised and damage was restricted.

4. The Internet:Link to the world: Bill Clede. Law and Order June 1995 p34.

5. <>

6. Working the net: Sergeant Marc Goodman Los Angeles Police Department in The Police Chief August 1997.

7. <>

8. <>

9. Policing Today June 1998 p18.

10. Victim Support Magazine Spring 1998 p10.

11. Internet Security Guidelines 1996. Home Office and PITO document.

12. < >

13. <>

14. <>

15. <>

16. <>

17. <>

18. <>

19. Suspicions as to the role of the police were demonstrated in recent publications following a number of conferences between ACPO and ISP's. See PC Pro April 1999 p51 for example.

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