Computer Week

Police chiefs have put plans in place to help forces find alternatives to share and access information, should the UK lose access to EU data sharing systems post Brexit, but say processes would be “slower and ultimately less effective”

UK police forces could lose access to European Union (EU) data sharing tools such as Europol, the European Arrest Warrant system and the European Criminal Records Information system as a result of Brexit.

To cope, police chiefs have come up with contingency plans, which include creating a national unit to help local forces find new alternatives.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) and the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) came up with the plans as they reviewed the UK’s current use of the EU systems and what it would mean to lose access.

The new unit will be made up of police officers from forces across the country, the NCA and the Criminal Records Office, and is being funded by the Home Office.

The unit will have regional contacts across the UK who will advise forces on how to get information through alternatives such as international police tools like Interpol, and using Council of Europe conventions to be able to extradite people, trace missing persons and share intelligence.

The NPCC’s chair Sara Thornton said the EU tools allow the UK’s police forces to respond “quickly and intelligently to crime and terrorism” in the UK and the EU, and that the alternatives “we are planning to use, where they exist, are without exception slower, more bureaucratic and ultimately less effective”.

“The loss of these tools and the limitations of the alternatives will be felt in European countries too. The UK is one of the biggest contributors of intelligence to Europol systems and leads half of its operational coordination meetings. For every one person arrested on a UK-issued European Arrest Warrant, the UK arrests eight people on warrants issued by other member states,” she said.

“We have agreed a model that minimises the risks and makes best use of already pressured police resources. It does not predict a worst-case scenario, but it does prepare for it. It is vital our operational planning is joined up across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, so we will be working closely with Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.”

Key systems police forces are losing access to include the Schengen Information System II, the European Arrest Warrant, European Criminal Records Information System, Europol, Eurojust and the European Investigations Order system.

The NPCC’s lead for Brexit, deputy assistant commissioner Richard Martin, said losing access to “key instruments” would mean UK police forces would no longer be able to share real time alerts for wanted people, be less efficient in responding to alerts for missing people “on either side of the Channel” and it would reduce “our collective ability to map terrorist and criminal networks across Europe and bring those responsible to justice”.

“We remain hopeful that a deal that allows us to maintain these capabilities can be struck,” he said.

Police forces are also planning for a No-Deal Brexit, putting in place plans to deal with protest and disorder, should the UK leave the EU without a deal.

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