President Paul Griffiths recently visited the National Crime Agency Headquarters and reflects on the crucial work of this sensitive policing area:
Arguably some of the most sensitive and challenging operations I have worked on in my 26 years of policing are those involving serious and organised crime.
Most of the public are fortunate enough to never directly notice this type of criminality. In fact, for most, it belongs nowhere other than on the television or cinema screens and is a long way from the comfort of their own home. Sadly, the stark reality is that organised crime is real, it is growing, and affects all of us, and particularly some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Established in 2013, the National Crime Agency (NCA) leads the UK’s fight to cut serious and organised crime, protecting the public by targeting and pursuing those criminals who pose the greatest risk to the UK. According to the NCA’s most recent assessment of serious and organised crime, there are more than 180,000 people involved in this type of criminality.
Much of this world is familiar to me, having led on a number of serious crime investigations, but my most recent roles have meant that it has been some time since I have been ‘up close’ to the reality of the world in which the NCA operates.
I was therefore delighted to be invited by the NCA Director General, Lynne Owens, for an opportunity to meet some of the team delivering this crucial work.
So, what goes on behind NCA doors?
I was introduced to the National Data Exploitation Capability Team. Staff here are carrying out incredible work, pushing the boundaries on how best to exploit data to protect the country. They explore how the police service can work better with analytics to help us identify criminal activity through data and respond in the right way.
I met with some of the team working to combat online child abuse, who are dealing with some of the most disturbing crimes. These people are investigating abuse that is seen and shared across the internet, founded on the awful truth that behind each transaction a child is being or has been abused. In 2018 there were 113,948 child abuse referrals to UK law enforcement, which is a 997% increase since 2012.
I was also exposed to operationally sensitive law enforcement activity, demonstrating how decisions are made in the most high-pressure situations, to combat serious crime and ultimately save lives.
Finally, I was updated on the trafficking of commodities, firearms and humans. These heinous crimes expose the stark reality of those who wish to gain power and profit by victimising those who are most vulnerable. As with child sexual abuse, referrals on human trafficking nationally have markedly increased in recent years, up 80% between 2016 and 2019.
With my previous roles, much was familiar. However, the visit was a powerful reminder of the serious and organised crime which pervades our communities. It reinforced the crucial need in my current role, to continue with our push for influence at a strategic level, to support and enhance policing that can truly respond to the national threats we face.
It is also important that we help the public to be more aware of these issues. Whilst many in society might feel at a distance from this type of criminal activity, the reality is it impacts on everyone in some way. It is vital we raise a greater public understanding of these real threats to the health and wellbeing of our citizens, communities and country. We can see this starting to happen, as evidenced in the Police Foundation’s initial publication through its strategic review, which showed that serious and organised crime issues are starting to be highlighted by the public amongst their top priorities for the police.*
Despite having a background in crime, safeguarding and responding to high risk, harm and threats, this visit brought the issues into sharper focus. This ‘hidden’ world of crime poses a serious threat to our communities, and the role of the NCA and partners has never been as crucial in protecting the public.
With Sir Craig Mackey’s Serious and Organised Crime Review due to be published imminently, I hope we will continue to see government support of this powerful policing resource, working locally, nationally and globally, to protect our country.