Agency to fight organised crime
A US-style National Crime Agency will have a sweeping new power to step in to directly task and coordinate police forces in a bid to tackle organised crime and secure the UK's borders, the Home Secretary said.
Theresa May said too many of the 6,000 organised crime gangs in the UK were escaping justice and a tough new approach was needed.
The agency will step in to coordinate police work, identify national priorities and ensure that the new directly-elected police and crime commissioners are "aware of the needs of the nation", she said.
"For the first time, there will be one agency with the power, remit and responsibility for ensuring that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people," Mrs May told MPs.
"NCA officers will be able to draw on a wide range of powers, including those of a police constable, immigration or customs powers.
"This will mean that NCA officers - unlike anybody else - will be able to deploy powers and techniques that go beyond the powers of a police officer."
But the NCA "cannot and should not deliver the national response in isolation" but "will have the authority to undertake tasking and coordination, ensuring appropriate action is taken to put a stop to the activities of organised crime groups", the Home Office said.
"It will step in to directly task where there are disputes about the nature of approach or ownership."
Mrs May added: "I think it's important for this country that we take organised crime as seriously as we should.
"We haven't been able to deal with it as effectively as we need to because we have set up organisations that work in silos. There has been no proper cross-law enforcement agency coordination.
"This new National Crime Agency, and the powers that it has, this is a serious crime fighting body that will significantly enhance the UK's ability to deal with organised crime."
Its budget will not exceed that of the agencies it replaces and about £3 million of Government funding has been committed "for the national coordination of organised crime policing" in 2011/12, including an intelligence centre.
The Home Office plan for its creation highlighted comments by Scotland Yard chief Sir Paul Stephenson last year, who suggested the NCA could have powers to "maintain strategic oversight of operations and operational deployments, deliver a command and control capability when needed".
The power might involve "the ability to move assets to the problem, and engage with other law enforcement agencies across the spectrum of organised criminality", the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said.
Under the plans, the NCA could step in to ensure a "coordinated response" between several forces if a group of distraction burglars was frequently moving between different areas.
In tackling organised crime gangs, the NCA could lead operations involving several agencies, "developing a plan in agreement with all the police forces and agencies involved", so that each one "would be clear on what to do, when and why".
The NCA will replace the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca), which itself was described as Britain's FBI when it was set up in 2006, but will also include a border policing command and take in the work of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop).
An economic crime command will "ensure a coherent approach to the use of resources" and the Home Office will "review in due course what the appropriate relationship is" between the economic crime command, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).
The NCA will also house the national cyber crime unit, but it will not take over the national response to counter-terrorism operations, which will remain unchanged at least until after next year's Olympic Games.
A senior chief constable, who will head the agency when it is formed by the end of 2013, will be brought in to the Home Office on their current salary in the meantime to work on its creation.
The NCA will also "build and maintain a comprehensive intelligence picture of the threats, harm and risks to the UK from organised criminals and will be responsible for ensuring that those criminals are subject to a prioritised level of operational response".
The launch of the NCA is part of the most radical shake-up of policing in 50 years which will see the police and crime commissioners replace the existing police authorities from next May.
But critics have warned the NCA will be too large to be effective.
Mrs May went on: "The head of the NCA will be a significant individual who has that crime fighting record because it is a powerful crime fighting body.
"Until now there has been no means of coordinating or focusing our law enforcement response to get to grips with the complexity of the problem," Mrs May said.
"Sadly too many of the 6,000 groups who have been identified as being involved in organised crime in the UK have escaped justice.
"We need a much stronger coordinated collaborative national response to fight against organised crime. It is time for a fresh start."
She told MPs: "Organised crime, border crime, economic crime, cyber crime and child exploitation are real problems for real people.
"All areas of the country suffer their effects - from the very poorest communities to the most affluent; from the smallest villages to the biggest cities.
"And it is often the most vulnerable in our society who suffer the greatest harm.
"We owe it to them to do more to tackle the scourge of drugs, to better defend our borders, to fight fraud, and to protect our children and young people. The National Crime Agency will do all of those things and more."
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the creation of the NCA was a "chaotic and confusing process, with a lack of leadership from the Home Office".
"We support further reforms to national policing building on the Serious and Organised Crime Agency that Labour set up, and which achieved a 93% conviction rate," she said.
"But this has been so badly handled, it's caused real problems for the police.
"For the renamed national crime agency to be successful, it needs steady leadership, clarity and the resources to deliver. In the end reorganisation is no substitute for police officers on the ground doing the job."
But Chief Constable Jon Murphy, the lead on crime for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said the NCA was "an opportunity to raise our game against some of the most harmful and dangerous individuals in the UK".
"Good neighbourhood policing provides eyes and ears on the streets and, along with hi-tech methods of policing, is just as important in providing the intelligence that police need to get to grips with serious and organised crime," he said.
"This is why the fight against these threats must engage law enforcement collectively and collaboratively at every level.
"To do that, it will be critical that a clearly-focused crime fighting agency, with a senior chief constable at its head, can forge the collaborative relationships with local and regional policing that it will need to be effective.
"What we want is for each and every police officer to know exactly what is required of them to better protect the public from this threat."
Speaking in the Commons later, Ms Cooper, who labelled the agency "Soca Plus", said: "The reforms need to be handled effectively or they can go badly awry and awry they have already gone.
"Child protection experts have resigned, counter-terrorism plans have been publicly slapped down by the Met and the Serious Fraud Office has been put in a state of suspended animation.
"All of this at a time when 12,000 police officers have been cut across the country. The Government is pushing ahead with American-style plans for police and crime commissioners that nobody wants and the truth is these plans have been dogged by chaos and confusion."
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