2009 Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security Symposium

Speech to the 2009 Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security Symposium
Manly, NSW

11 March 2009

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I'd like to begin by acknowledging the Guringai People, the traditional owners of this land and their elders, past and present, who have a connection to this land.

Today I've been asked to address this Symposium on the ‘complex issues associated with policing serious and complex crime'. This presents a challenge in itself, because as many of you would know, the issues facing today's police are so complex that we could spend all day talking about them rather than the time allotted here this morning.

Essentially, the law enforcement environment of today is far different to what it was 10 or even 5 years ago.

Not only have traditional crimes become more sophisticated, organised and transnational in nature, but the challenges posed by ongoing advances in technology on crime have been intensifying. We have also seen the evolution of the international security environment, and the emergence of climate change as a potential threat to international security and stability.

Most recently, the deepening global financial crisis has provided new ‘food for thought' as we contemplate the possible effects on the crime environment, both locally and abroad.

Long gone are the days when police could focus their efforts on an investigation once a crime had been committed.

Today we need to be doing that, as well as thinking in a broader context and monitoring world events to better prepare our organisations for responding to, or ultimately preventing, serious crime.

That is why policing is increasingly about addressing the intellectual as well as the operational challenges that are present. We must turn our minds to the infinite array of possibilities that could unfold and we must engage with those beyond the law enforcement environment – such as in academia, business and grassroots community organizations – to better understand their view of the world and the challenges they foresee so we can get a more holistic picture of what is in store.

We welcome the opportunity to attend forums such as this and to spend time meeting with people outside of law enforcement to hear their views. It is a practice that we encourage among the AFP Executive to promote intellectual and strategic debate on issues that really affect our business.

To this end, the AFP is a partner in the Dutch-led and Dutch inspired international policing think-tank – Pearls in Policing - which attracts leaders from law enforcement around the world and provides a valuable opportunity to share knowledge and discuss the various scenarios facing the law enforcement community. We recently hosted a meeting of the working group for the think-tank ahead of its next meeting in The Hague in June 2009. The AFP will host the 2010 “Pearls in Policing” meeting which will be the first time the group has met outside of the Netherlands.  This augments the successful ‘International Policing Towards 2020' conference that was held in Canberra about 18-months ago and attracted a distinguished range of speakers from fields as diverse as science, business, technology, the environment, law and demography – all of whom highlighted the complex linkages between their respective industries and crime.

Broad-based scenario thinking has become an important part of our business planning process, enabling us to prepare for the unexpected.

We need to be thinking about the socio-economic impact of the global financial crisis for policing. For example, are there direct cause and effect relationships between declining employment levels and crime? Almost every developed economy has introduced some sort of government expenditure stimulus to their economies. Are these packages or will these packages – be an opportunity for fraud? Who is buying the remnants of once-strong and high performing commodity producers?

These are interesting questions to ponder when seeking to understand the complexity of factors underpinning and driving crime in today's interconnected world.

While not directly related to policing, developments such as these can have an impact on the work police do and how we plan and better prepare our organisations for dealing with the vast array of challenges that are present.

So what are the specific challenges confronting the AFP? They are extremely complex and diverse in nature, but can be loosely categorized as strategic and operational.

On the operational front, transnational crime such as trafficking in persons, drugs and arms, people smuggling and the illegal exploitation of resources continue to require collaborative action with our partner agencies, both nationally and internationally. This trend is largely being fuelled by advances in transport, technology and communications which are intensifying human interactions and trade internationally and providing criminals with new opportunities to pursue their activities.

Looming on the law enforcement horizon, non-traditional security issues such as global warming, pandemics and food security could also emerge as potential threats in years to come. While this is an area still the subject of much debate, current thinking is that climate change could complicate international and national security arenas in five key ways, namely:

  1. Increased water, food and energy scarcities;
  2. Increased unregulated population movements;
  3. More severe natural disasters;
  4. Greater health consequences including from an increased risk of pandemics; and
  5. The combination of these factors to weaken some states.

As a result of these developments, international cooperation in sharing intelligence and information is becoming even more important. The AFP is well placed in this regard, having offices in 28 countries around the world.

In the current context, the AFP will also need to understand how the successful collaborations of the past decade will be affected by likely declines in expenditure on policing activities both here and abroad?

Strategically, our key challenges lie in areas such as people, relationships, technology, information, intelligence and finance.

Due to the diversity of our current business interests, ensuring we have the right people in the right place at the right time in a competitive employment market, is always a challenge. We need to be as adaptive, responsive and agile as the most sophisticated transnational criminals, which means we need to employ specialists and people with niche capabilities to intercept illegal activities.

On the technology front, advances in this field have made the job of policing easier in areas such as forensics, intelligence, international and community policing, but at the same time it has also increased pressure on our ability to store, retrieve and access the large volumes of information that now flow into our organization. To this end, we have been seeking to address this through the introduction of new information systems, including the Spectrum program which features a state-of-the-art computer system that will enable us to better store, integrate and process more effectively large volumes of information held by the AFP.

Early on in this speech, I mentioned the importance of prevention in contemporary policing. Given the gravity and destruction wreaked by crimes such as terrorism – which have again been brought home in recent months in India and Pakistan - prevention is what the public now expects of law enforcement - and is often the yardstick by which our success (and our partners in the intelligence community) is measured.

Crime prevention is a key business priority for organisations such as ours, however it is much easier said than done. While organisations can – and do - invest much time and effort in intelligence, education and deterrence, there are countless social, environmental, economic and other forces at play in the international environment that can drive an individual to commit crime.

Addressing these often lies beyond the realms of law enforcement, so that is why it is increasingly necessary for the broad community to understand that fighting crime must be a collaborative responsibility. Relationships at local, national and international levels are critical to achieving this and that is why forging these partnerships has been a strategic focus of the AFP over many years.

Leading on from this, managing expectations is also a key challenge in the contemporary policing environment. Governments, community groups, and the media can have different expectations of what and how we should deliver. These can sometimes shift with one incident or in a short space of time, creating significant challenges in terms of resourcing and operations. The AFP needs to be increasingly flexible and adaptable to keep pace with these changing needs but we also need to be effective in communicating our position to the government, and the community and the media.

Looking to the future, I think the global financial crisis will create a whole new set of challenges for the international law enforcement community.  This will in all likelihood require a sustained effort over a potentially significant period of time. It is inevitable that criminals will seek to exploit the new vulnerabilities it creates.

Indeed, Admiral Dennis Blair, the Obama administration's Director of Congress, recently told the US Senate that the economic crisis is now the top US security concern.

In his address, he warned that social unrest in Europe and former Soviet Nations had highlighted the security risks unleashed by the economic crisis and that many nations are not prepared to cope.

He went on to say the longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to US strategic interests.

So what will be the effects closer to home? That remains to be seen in entirety, but already we have witnessed job losses, a downturn in economic activity and new social pressures emerge.

From a law enforcement perspective, we need to be looking out for people who might seek to exploit the economic crisis for financial gain, be it through fraud, or illegal money-making schemes, through e-crime and identity theft, or new trafficking routes as trading patterns change. We also need to be considering whether Australia's attractiveness for crime could increase if we weather the storm better than other nations.

Internationally, we also need to monitor whether our regional partners experience difficulty over coming years, that could weaken their ability to combat crime, potentially leading to instability and destabilization in the region.

Organisationally too, the AFP is not immune from the global economic downturn, so we need to be continually looking for ways to make more efficient use of the resources we have whilst ensuring that our operational capability is not compromised.

Recently, Sir Lawrence Freedman- described by ANU Professor Hugh White as one of the world's foremost strategic thinkers on international policy - summed up the challenges associated with the financial crisis when he gave a speech to the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

“Such crises aggravate and accelerate existing fractures and tendencies at all levels, from the parochial to the global. They stress societies and test their coherence and self-confidence…,” he said.

What this means for us…only time will tell. But we need to position our organizations to respond when required by government, which has the heavy burden of weighing up what it needs to do domestically against what it needs to do internationally, especially in our region. These are difficult and complex decisions for both governments and police executives to make, so one thing is for certain - challenging times lie ahead.