Organised crime gangs 'outwitting police'

Chris Greenwood,Press Association
Tuesday 13 July 2010 08:46 BST

The long arm of the law is failing to reach the most dangerous organised crime gangs, Britain's most senior police officer warned.

Sir Paul Stephenson said sophisticated gangsters of all kinds are using cutting edge technology to outwit a half-hearted police response.

The Scotland Yard boss said efforts to tackle organised criminals have been uncoordinated and inadequate for many years.

He revealed police are actively targeting a little more than one in 10 (11%) of some 6,000 crime gangs who have 38,000 members and cost the economy more than £40 billion annually.

Sir Paul called on the Government to set a clear national strategy for tackling organised crime and said police should copy the template set by counter-terrorism work to bring down networks.

Speaking at the annual John Harris Memorial Lecture, in central London last night, he said the popular view is that the "long arm of the law" will catch up with persistent lawbreakers in the end.

Sir Paul said: "Regrettably, in recent times, some criminals are learning that the reach of criminal justice does not always extend that far and in many ways does not include them and will often be restricted by artificial and self-imposed police boundaries.

"They have learnt that if they become sufficiently organised and sophisticated - and by definition they often are - then our reach is no greater than our ambition, and our ambition has been less than it should have been in recent years."

Police work to tackle top crime barons profiting from drug smuggling, people trafficking, massive financial fraud and counterfeiting has been repeatedly questioned in recent years.

Sir Paul said work was inadequate in a review commissioned in 2003 and Sir Denis O'Connor, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, followed up in 2005 with a report that recommended merging some forces to bridge the gap.

Senior officers said the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) helped target the most serious international threats, but gaps remain in targeting domestic gangs.

Every force in the country was asked to contribute to an intelligence database mapping every suspected crime gang, creating a snapshot of an underground industry with £2 billion in assets.

Sir Paul said there is a strong financial argument for investing in police to tackle organised criminals as they offer good value for money and protect the economy.

He said new crimes and techniques have created opportunities for even the youngest of criminals to make millions from people around the world through a laptop in their bedroom.

The senior officer said police have a good picture of the challenges they face but no nationally co-ordinated method of tackling the problem or ways of measuring their progress.

He said ministers should resist creating an FBI-style agency or ask a force to take the lead and instead look at copying counter terrorism where a national co-ordinator oversees a series of regional hubs.

Sir Paul cautioned that directly-elected individuals, a key part of the Government's shake-up of police oversight, will not see fighting organised crime as a "vote winner".

He said Government ministers, officials and police need to tackle organised crime with a "vigour, determination and creativity" that has not been seen so far.

He added: "A solution is long overdue."

Sir Paul said today that organised crime was a tax on the British economy.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Serious organised crime affects everyone in this country. It's a surcharge on everything we buy."

He insisted: "We have massively improved our ability to map these groups.

"We are targeting them. We should be able to do this much better if we co-ordinate the effort of police across the country in a more cohesive way."

But he said he was not urging an FBI-style national police body: "I'm not keen on a single national body, but what I am keen on doing is ensuring we have better co-ordination."

The Met commissioner also refused to be drawn into detailed comment on the Northumbria police operation to hunt down gunman Raoul Moat.

Sir Paul said: "I think it was an extremely difficult operation. There was great public concern and real danger.

"I'm not going to comment on how it was managed. I think there has been sufficient ill-informed comment about it."

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