Agility through learning — keeping ahead of organised crime

Leanda Mould, Head of the Proceeds of Crime Centre at the National Crime Agency.

As criminals focus on their professional development, it is critical that law enforcement officers do the same.

Heading up the National Crime Agency’s response to proceeds of crime and counterfeit currency, I’m well aware of how the quickly the world of serious and organised crime now moves. New and emerging technology means the environment we work in is effectively borderless and every investigation has an international dimension. We need to make sure we stay agile.

Equipment is important. But having the right continuous professional development in place is also crucial if we’re to stay ahead of the curve. When I first joined the police back in 1991, the training courses were role and force based. That’s less the case now — the College of Policing and Civil Service Learning provide nationally accredited training while working to establish the mix of tools, techniques and skills we will need in the future.

There are a couple of learning experiences I’ve recently had in the NCA which I think warrant sharing. The first is a formal scheme that allows officers of all levels to take on a mentor.

I encountered mentoring only in 2015 as part of a course I was on. It was an alien concept for me — my only contact with anything comparable was having a tutor constable when I was a probationer in the police 25 years ago. Obviously I’d met with colleagues informally to talk through things but I’d never done it on a formal basis.

Some research was needed so I started by looking at myself and what I needed from a mentor. I approached someone who I thought would be suitable, we met and he agreed to take on the role.

Put simply, the process is all about sitting down and making time to focus on you, your career aspirations and personal development — it’s an opportunity to talk through what is happening in your professional life.

Your mentor’s experience and knowledge might help give insight or offer a different perspective about a situation you’re involved in. They may also be able to help you with developing competencies or interview techniques.

In my case, my mentor gave me an insight into how to deal with some of the more tricky situations that might arise when working with partners — including other government departments — where the environment can, at times, require some careful negotiations.

We had a very positive relationship throughout. So I was very pleased to see that, more recently, the NCA introduced a formal process of mentoring — where officers are being encouraged to put themselves forward as a mentor or ask for mentoring. I think it’s a great way to embed learning and enhance our workforce.

The second significant learning scheme I’ve encountered in the NCA is an international law enforcement initiative called Pearls in Policing.

This is a think-tank, started around a decade ago by the Dutch which has now expanded to include senior international law enforcement officers — at last year’s seminar the College of Policing Chief Executive Alex Marshall represented the UK. Every year the international action planning group is set a difficult problem agreed at the International Police Chiefs’ seminar and sponsored by an international chief.

In my case, our group was made up of officers from 14 different countries and our scenario involved tackling radicalisation. Although that’s not something the NCA is responsible for, it was an opportunity to really broaden the horizons, working with academics and others to see how we could influence in this area. I wanted as many officers in my agency as possible to benefit from this opportunity, so my colleagues assisted in carrying out the research ahead of our final presentation.

In developing yourself, I think it is also important that you think about how you develop others of all grades at the same time. Given our international footprint and the global nature of serious and organised crime, the forum provides the chance to learn from your contemporaries while they learn from you as you meet on several residential sessions. This is a useful process as some countries are more advanced on particular law enforcement areas than others. The NCA, for example, is ahead of many of its contemporaries in how it uses social media.

Initiatives such as Pearls in Policing can only enhance our partnership working and promote learning in a world where serious and organised crime is truly international. If we are to deal with this global problem effectively, we need to continuously raise our game. Criminals are constantly developing themselves and adapting their tactics — we must do the same.