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Specialist Police Units

What police departments and units does a police force have to deal with the increasing demands?

Specialist Police Units and Departments

The range of crimes and the scope of policing has changed dramatically over recent years. This has led to an increase in the number of policing departments and units we now see being deployed to deal with specific areas of policing and criminal investigations. In this next section, we will identify and outline the function of some of those departments.

The structure of a force, will vary, depending upon size of the force, the challenges and demands within their individual area, but these are some of the typical units and departments you will find.

Neighbourhood Policing Teams

Names of team may vary slightly (such as Safer Neighbourhood Teams- SNT) but their general function is for a dedicated team of uniform officers to make communities safer through an approach that is focussed on visibility, engagement, problem solving and community resilience. They are generally knowledgeable of a specific beat or area and familiar with ongoing local concerns or anti-social behaviour problems. They should be familiar faces in the community and can be a mix of police officers, community support officers, specials constables and police staff members.

Uniformed Response Team

The names of such teams may vary across the country, but their general function is to provide a quick time uniform response to emergency incidents reported to police. Generally, they will deal with the most urgent policing activities requiring immediate action and 999 calls. It is a critical role that operates a 24 hour shift system, it’s demanding, fast-paced and requires a wide range of skills and abilities. Response officers will be deployed to a variety of policing incidents and may not be confined to a specific beat or area. It is a separate role from that of a neighbourhood officer.

Traffic or Roads Policing Unit

A traffic officer is concerned with all aspects of road safety, while still getting involved in policing all kinds of non-traffic incidents and using specialist driving skills to purse vehicles or vehicles failing to stop. The work of traffic officers is often complex and multi-layered and includes: * Dealing with motorway collisions and road traffic incidents

  • Ensuring that vehicles on the road conform to the legal safety requirements

  • Dealing with motoring offences, such as speeding

  • Breath testing procedures and dealing with drink driving offences

  • Managing the traffic when the road is blocked by an incident or event

Dog Unit

Dog Handling Teams utilise the specialist senses of a canines smell to assist with the detection and prevention of crime. Dog handlers are able to train and deploy their animals in a wide variety of roles such as public order events and crowd control but more often to detect a wide range of offences such as; * Search for explosives, weapons and drugs

  • Aid in the search for missing or injured people

  • Track and detain offenders

  • Locating dead bodies and blood, either buried or on the surface

Mounted Police

A traditional policing department which is on the decrease but provides an invaluable policing function. Horses are mainly used by the police for: * Crowd control during demonstrations and sporting events

  • A police presence in serious disturbances such as riots

  • In rural areas, horses are used in searches of wide open spaces

  • Ceremonial occasions

  • High visibility patrol duties

Underwater Search Unit (USW)

Highly trained police divers are needed in many forces to take part in underwater search units. The units are utilised for underwater searches for suspected weapons, stolen property or missing people. This is a physically demand role and officers need to be extremely fit and willing to work in extreme and challenging conditions. They are usually trained in number of other specialist search and rescue skills such as ropes and abseiling.

Firearms Support Unit (FSU)

Although British police officers are not routinely armed each force has a number of officers who are trained and equipped to carry firearms and participate in operations that require firearms. Firearms units have a number of tactical advisors to aid senior officers in decision making during major incidents, and to provide a planning capability for planned firearms operations and VIP protection. The main responsibilities of firearms units in the UK are the response to emergency calls believed to involve firearms, and the arrest of armed, dangerous or barricaded criminals in raids and operations. Specialist firearms officers receive enhanced training in dynamic entry tactics, for hostage rescue and counter terrorism.

Operational Support Unit (OSU)

Most forces will have an OSU capacity to deploy in spontaneous or pre-planned major incidents. The department provides advanced public order trained officers, specialist search officers and officers trained in safe entry to buildings. These officers are generally physically fit and have a wide have a wide range of skills including:

  • Counter terrorism and VIP searches

  • Dealing with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear incidents (CBRN)

  • Recovery of victims from major incidents

  • Working at heights

  • Supporting local policing operations aimed at reducing crime and making communities feel safer

  • Dealing with specialist public order incidents such as riots and city centre disturbances

  • Conducting raids and arrests.

  • Assisting with house to house enquiries on major incidents and provide reassurance patrols in specific area when needed.

National Air support Unit (NPAS)

Now a national unit, forces are able to request air support for deployment on a wide range of incidents such as;

  • Searching for missing people

  • Following suspect and vehicle pursuits

  • Tracking and locating suspects

  • Public order incidents

  • High profile patrols

  • Photographic tasks

  • Command and control

  • Live video stream

Criminal Investigations Department (CID)

The CID deals with the majority of more serious crimes and investigations within a force. Offences such as robberies, burglaries, sexual offences, fraud, serious assaults and potentially murders. CID officers sometimes assist uniformed officers in investigating less serious crimes, such as theft. The CID has the same rank structure as the uniformed branch. Officers are known as detective constable, detective sergeants and so on. If a force is experiencing a high rate of offences in relation to certain crime .i.e. Hanoi burglary (where offenders break in to a house specifically to steal keys for high value motor vehicles) they may have specialist teams or units within a CID dedicated to dealing with all these type if offences.

Major Investigation Team (MIT)

Major Investigation Teams may have different titles across the country but they are responsible for investigating some of the most serious and high profile crimes within a force, including:

  • homicide (murder and manslaughter)

  • rape investigations where the offender is unknown

  • kidnap

  • extortion

  • work-related deaths

  • other investigations of a sensitive nature

All staff will be qualified detectives and experienced investigators. They may be specialist interviewers or have additional specialist skills and senior officers will have a proven track record of leading high profile investigations.

Forensic services – Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)

Across the country this department will vary in structure but in general its main functions will include, Crime Scene Investigation, Photographic/imaging and fingerprint development services.

Usually civilian staff employees, Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) are involved in securing and protecting crime scenes, and collecting evidence from crime scenes, post-mortems and other incidents, such as fires and suspicious deaths. They are responsible for processing and categorising evidence, so that it can be used in criminal investigations. This might include gathering photographic evidence or physical samples from the scene, such as weapons, fingerprints, clothing or biological evidence.

Force Intelligence Unit

This department and structure will vary greatly form force to force but its function will generally be concerned with the gathering, developing, handling and dissemination of intelligence across a force or within specialist units. It is generally a covert environment where intelligence officers, analysts and researchers utilise a wide range of assets such as surveillance teams, informants – Covert Human Intelligence Sources (CHIS), technical equipment such as cameras and recording equipment, High Tech and digital investigations.

Drugs squad

Where the National Crime Agency tackles the large-scale drug trafficking offences, local forces may have local units to deal specifically with drug offences in their area. They will be involved in surveillance of local drug dealers, raids on premises and making arrests and may work closely with other police departments both uniform and investigative. Drug offences are often discovered in conjunction with other criminal investigations such as theft or burglary and a separate drugs unit can assist with this side of an investigation.

Economic Crime Unit (ECU)

Most forces have specialist units dealing primarily with fraud or financial crime. The unit’s main responsibility is to both investigate and take steps to prevent fraud, along with a wide range of other fraudulent crimes which require specialist knowledge and training to investigate. Often complex and protracted investigations, offences of fraud often require officers with specialist skills and financial investigative techniques. They may well deal with offences under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) where money and assets as seized suspected of being linked to criminal activities.

Special Branch (SB)

Most forces still retain its own Special Branch dealing with terrorism related enquiries locally however, regional counter terrorism units have the lead role in most major terrorism investigations. Its work covers investigations into individuals and extremist groups which may be linked with threats to national security. This involves surveillance work and also keeping other officers and departments across the force informed of any threats or intelligence.

Safeguarding Unit

Local Safeguarding Units (SGU’s) include police officers and support staff who specialise in areas relating to child and public protection. They routinely deal with child abuse allegations, including abuse within the family setting, abuse by professionals, carers, organised abuse in addition to those children who may be at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation.

Public Protection Department

Public Protection Officers are responsible for the daily management of potentially dangerous persons, registered sex offenders, and other sex offenders residing within the force area. The management of offenders is undertaken by the way of Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) a process through which the police, probation and other agencies work together and manage the risks posed by violent and sexual offenders living in the community.

Cyber Crime Unit

A new and rapidly emerging area of policing, most forces will now have a capacity to respond to the threat, risk and harm posed by cyber and organised crime. Engaging with regional and national partners, the highly specialised teams cover a wide range of covert investigations including drug supply, complex enquiries into organised criminal groups, and cybercrime. They will focus on;

  • Cyber Dependent Crimes, where a digital system is the target as well as the means of attack. These include attacks on computer systems to disrupt IT infrastructure and stealing data over a network using malware. The purpose of the data theft is usually to commit further crime.

  • Cyber Enabled Crimes, ‘existing’ crimes that have been transformed in scale or form by their use of the internet. The growth of the internet has allowed these crimes to be carried out on an industrial scale.

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