Earlier this month a new era began in the fight against serious and organised crime. As well as the official launch of the National Crime Agency (NCA), the government published a new serious and organised crime strategy. The NCA will replace the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which is to be welcomed for a number of reasons. In contrast to SOCA, it will be less covert and directly accountable to the Home Secretary; it will be headed by a Chief Constable with the power to instruct forces to conduct specific operations; and it will have a wider remit to reflect changing patterns of organised crime, most notably responsibility for combatting economic crime. Much of the rest, such as the incorporation of other bodies such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection unit and the National Missing Persons Bureau is tidying up.
The NCA has been compared with the FBI, but the big difference is that it has no remit for counter-terrorism. This may change following the review announced by the Home Secretary into whether this too should come under the command of the NCA, but at the moment responsibility for counter-terrorism remains with the Metropolitan Police Service. But it’s probably only a matter of time. The Home Secretary wouldn’t have announced the review if she were not taking this option seriously. Significantly, responsibility for serious and organised crime within the Home Office now sits with Director General responsible for counter-terrorism and the new Serious and Organised Crime Strategy is a dead-ringer for CONTEST, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The NCA’s responsibility for developing a single authoritative intelligence picture is already based on the model for counter-terrorism adopted by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC).
All this may be fine and dandy, but by far the most important issue is whether the NCA’s resources are sufficient to match the growing threat from serious organised crime. At a time when the government has heightened the risk from serious organised crime to one of the four main threats facing the nation and published a strategy in which it consistently cites evidence to show how the risk from serious organised crime is rising (especially cyber-enabled organised crime), it substantially reduces the budget for tackling it. According to the Home Affairs Committee, the NCA has been charged with being more effective than its predecessor but with fewer resources and a wider remit. Although direct comparisons with SOCA are difficult (some SOCA functions are not being carried over while some NCA functions were not previously carried out by SOCA), it is clear that the familiar government mantra of doing more with less is being rigorously applied here.
To achieve what looks like a very tall order, the NCA will have to work much more effectively with forces, who in turn will have to recognise that the NCA can’t do it onits own; forces will have to take greater responsibility for tackling organised crime than hitherto. The additional £10m allocated to Regional Organised Crime Units and the idea of using Specials and volunteers is unlikely to do more than scratch the surface. Given what we know about the current shift from traditional forms of crime such as burglary and car crime to so-called ‘new’ crimes such as organised fraud and cyber-crime, the NCA really will have its work cut out.
NB. The Police Foundation’s annual conference ‘Policing Organised Crime: changing landscape, changing Practice’ will examine the issue of organised crime and the new Director General of the NCA, Keith Bristow, will be among the speakers.Find out more.