The Police Foundation and Perpetuity Research have completed a large-scale study of organised crime occurring in local communities, and how local police and partners respond to it. Data analysis and consultation with local level practitioners uncovered a diverse picture of organised crime that was widespread in communities and which had a sizeable footprint in recorded crime. It provides a clear illustration of the need for a much more locally-driven and holistic response to organised crime, one which is focused on not only targeting known perpetrators, but on identifying and protecting those who experience or are at risk from harm.
Up to 17 per cent of the crime impacting on some neighbourhoods and between a third and half of all fraud were estimated to emanate from organised crime, and over half of children identified as being vulnerable to child sexual exploitation were found to have been at risk from groups of offenders. Perhaps more concerning still was the hidden and intangible harm that could not be measured – for example, the highly transient population of sex workers for whom significant exploitation concerns could never quite be substantiated, the cost of sexual and criminal exploitation to children and adults whose entire life trajectory may have been permanently altered, or the levels of control, fear and intimidation experienced by victims and others living in communities that were presided over by criminal families. However the findings from this research not only shed light on the problems themselves, but also on the wide gap between the scale of these problems and the local capacity to deal with them.
Organised crime is a term that has leverage within the police: once a problem has been labelled as ‘organised crime’ there is a chance that the resources to tackle it will follow. However this is much less straightforward than it might seem. The mind set of many officers working in neighbourhoods is that organised crime is not something they deal with and as a result there is a lack of understanding of what organised crime looks like. It might seem trite to suggest there needs to be some clarity on what organised crime actually is, but during this research we found very real examples of how an inability to identify organised crime leads to gaps in response. The result is that many organised crime groups do not get acknowledged as such and so do not attract specialist resources, but at the same time are left in the ‘too difficult’ box for local practitioners to deal with.
The situation is not helped by severing the police brain for tackling organised crime (analysts in headquarters) from the arm (officers on the ground), with the latter shouldering little of the responsibility for identifying and dealing with local organised crime but rather passively inheriting organised crime groups to manage. In addition, local specialist teams (or squads) have dissipated and local ’omni-competent’ officers are now increasingly being asked to shoulder this work. The rationale being that the many can achieve more impact than a handful of specialists, but local teams still have substantial ‘day-jobs’ and are not necessarily afforded the time or knowledge to meaningfully engage with these issues.
Centralising decision-making for organised crime has the effect of separating it from mainstream policing on the ground which can leave significant gaps in the local response. There is a need for local systems that are joined up and focused on identifying and targeting organised crime in communities. Local practitioners lack systems to assess new intelligence, target efforts to develop intelligence, make decisions on which local crimes or offenders to respond to, tailor an appropriate response, or to effectively collaborate with partner agencies who have the remit and power to support or drive a response to local organised crime. These processes are particularly lacking in relation to prevention activity. The government has advocated for the police, in collaboration with partner agencies to develop more local and problem-oriented profiles of organised crime but these have been slow to emerge and so the influence they will have on the local response remains uncertain.
Organised crime is a source of widespread social and economic harm which can stem from anywhere in the globe, to reach and impact on those living in any community. These problems are too significant and complex to be confined to the strictures of police systems and processes for understanding and dealing with known organised crime groups, and require an invigorated and coordinated response from local enforcement and support agencies who share a common purpose.
Read the Police Foundation’s report The impact of organised crime in local communities.