Concerns raised over rise in organised crime
There are more than 180,000 offenders linked to serious and organised crime in the UK and law enforcement needs billions more in investment to keep up, the National Crime Agency has warned.
NCA director Lynne Owens called the scale of organised crime ‘staggering’ as she warned that the public would ‘feel the consequences’ if funding is not boosted by £2.7 billion over the next three years.
The estimated number of criminals believed to be involved – more than twice the strength of the British Army – is thought to be a conservative estimate as it only includes members of organised crime gangs and the worst paedophiles operating on the dark web.
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An annual assessment by the NCA, published today, found that organised crime costs the UK around £37 billion per year.
Ms Owens said: "Serious and organised crime (SOC) in the UK is chronic and corrosive, its scale is truly staggering.
"It kills more people every year than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined.
"SOC affects more UK citizens, more frequently than any other national security threat.
"And it costs the UK at least £37 billion a year, equivalent to nearly £2,000 per family.
"We need significant further investment to keep pace with the growing scale and complexity.
"Enhancing our capabilities is critical to our national security.
"If we don't, the whole of UK law enforcement, and therefore the public, will feel the consequences."
As well as dealing with growing demand, the NCA would aim to boost digital forensics, covert surveillance and financial investigations with additional funding.
Ms Owens added: "Some will say we cannot afford to provide more investment, but I say we cannot afford not to.
"The organised criminals of today are indiscriminate, they care less about what types of crime they're involved in, as long as it makes them a profit.
"These groups are preying on the most vulnerable in society, including young children and the elderly, those most unable to protect themselves.
"The choice is stark.
"Failing to invest will result in the gradual erosion of our capabilities and our ability to protect the public."
The NCA's annual National Strategic Assessment found that the number of ‘county lines’ gangs has surged from 720 to more than 2,000 in around a year.
These are drug dealing networks that operate lucrative phone lines, delivering illegal substances from urban bases out into more rural areas.
They are known for forcing young and vulnerable people into crime.
The NCA said that in some areas there are now crime gangs nearly solely made up of children and young people.
Detective Inspector Jamie Henderson, who heads up the Fortify team in Sheffield, said his team’s efforts are ‘relentless’ in tackling organised crime groups.
He added: “I manage a team of five sergeants and around 40 constables whose specific role is to identify, disrupt and ultimately eradicate organised criminality in the city.
“There is a lot of excellent work already under way to tackle this type of activity and bring offenders to justice, which has resulted in successful prosecutions and ultimately seen some dangerous criminals, weapons, firearms and drugs taken off our streets.
On a daily basis, we gather intelligence, execute warrants and make arrests. We average 10-15 arrests per week, and so far this year 36 of our mapped OCG nominals have been brought in to custody.
“We have recovered 10 firearms, over 30 knives, £150,000 in cash and in excess of 3000 cannabis plants and a kilo of cocaine. To put it in to perspective, a single cannabis plant can be worth around £1,000 – so that’s £3 million that could otherwise have been funding the work of organised criminals.
“The operation spans much further than my team though. We have excellent engagement with partner organisations and communities across the city; there is a real sense of collective responsibility when it comes to tackling organised crime and protecting those most likely to be exploited.
“We work to protect some of the most vulnerable people in society – those who are seen to be easy targets for OCGs. This year we have made over 60 safeguarding referrals to partner services where we believe there is either a vulnerable adult or child at risk from being exploited.
“We also recognise the need to work with communities that are disproportionately affected by organised crime. Increasing confidence and strengthening resilience in these communities is vital to our operation and we have commenced a programme of consolation and engagement in key communities
“I want to send a very clear and powerful message to those who think they can get away with targeting vulnerable people in Sheffield that we will do everything in our power to stop you in your tracks and bring you to justice.”