Earlier this evening I heard Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, deliver the Police Foundation Annual Lecture (given each year in memory of Lord John Harris – no relation).

Sir Paul’s lecture, entitled “Fighting Organised Crime in an Era of Financial Austerity”, was insightful and thought-provoking.

And the thought it provoked in me was how does tackling serious crime fit into the Coalition Government’s agenda?

The answer, if you listen to Sir Paul (although he was much too polite to say it so explicitly), was that it doesn’t.

The lecture spelt out the impact that serious organised crime has directly and indirectly on communities and its financial and economic cost to the country.  And Sir Paul then pointed out that, despite the significant improvements in recent years:

“The specialist resources devoted by the police service to addressing the threat from organised crime remains uncoordinated.  ….  the  service has no organised crime strategy, no established national tasking process and no meaningful performance measures.”

He didn’t say – although he could have done – that the Coalition’s Programme for Government doesn’t mention serious organised crime in the chapter on “Crime and Policing” and the closest it gets to a mention anywhere in the document is in the chapter on “Immigration” which promises to:

“create a dedicated Border Police Force, as part of a refocused Serious Organised Crime Agency, to enhance national security, improve immigration controls and crack down on the trafficking of people, weapons and drugs. We will work with police forces to strengthen arrangements to deal with serious crime and other cross-boundary policing challenges, and extend collaboration between forces to deliver better value for money.”

Refocussing SOCA on immigration hardly solves the problem Sir Paul was describing.

He did, however, reveal that the Government is now drafting a paper on organised crime – so I suppose that must be progress.  However, before we get our expectations too high, he warns that this:

“must not be a collection of fine words and generic statements.”

…. perhaps he’s seen the draft.

And he concluded with a stark warning:

“I wonder how many Chief Constables across the country are going to be able and willing to balance the very proper desire and requirement for local community policing, with the challenge of maintaining at least existing capability to deal with the high end but often less obvious demands of serious organised crime.  And is the situation about to get even more complex?  Will the new accountability and governance model for police forces, incorporating directly elected local individuals, lead to the unintended consequence of further eroding existing limited organised crime capability?”

And, if the Coalition omits tackling serious organised crime from its programme for crime and policing, what will happen with directly elected police chiefs?

I hope we don’t have to wait for a Sicilian-style breakdown of civic authority before tackling organised crime reappears on the Coalition’s priority list.

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