Adding to the picture: The UK’s serious and organised crime threat assessment
8 Jul 2015|


The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has just released their 2015 serious and organised crime risk assessment.

With a few exceptions, you could be reading its Australian counterpart, which was released last month by the Australian Crime Commission (ACC). Both documents cover similar threats, and describe the harm caused by criminal activity in their respective communities in similar ways. There are, of course, differences due to the scale of the UK’s criminal problem, which can be accounted for by its role as a leading global financial hub, the size of its population, and its particular geographic, social and political conditions.

But differences arise in other contexts as well.

For one, the UK assessment conveys the NCA’s operational priorities. Their assessment contains a table, right up the front (see p. 6), to explain that not all crime has the same priority for attention. Some are ‘high priority’, while other crime threats receive a rating of ‘priority’ (there’s also the rating of ‘significant’, but that’s not used in this assessment. After all, governments can’t say serious crime is ‘not a priority’).

Those in the high priority category across all the threat areas include money laundering, child sexual exploitation and abuse, and ‘cross-cutting’ threats like corruption, border vulnerabilities and identity crime.

For instance, the categories of cybercrime, drugs, economic and organised immigration crime include both high priority and priority threats. On the cyber side, they treat international groups targeting the UK as high priority, but consider UK-based cyber criminals as only a priority.

On the drugs side, cannabis and new psychoactive substances (so-called ‘legal highs’) are rated as a priority, while cocaine and heroin are high priority.

And the whole category of organised acquisitive crime, which focuses on the threat of vehicle crime, is rated in the priority category by the NCA too. Perhaps this indicates a view that such crime should be managed mainly at the local level in the UK. This type isn’t covered in our ACC assessment, which probably means the level of acquisitive crime is not perceived as ‘serious and organised’ in Australia.

Dividing criminal threats into priorities is an interesting technique that’s worth examining for future Australian assessments. While the basis for the NCA’s categorisations aren’t explicit, harm seems to be a major factor in the ranking decision. For instance, they assess the harm caused by cannabis as less than that for heroin and cocaine. The harm caused by international cybercrime groups are clearly considered greater than that posed by UK-based groups.

As for border crime, the NCA puts less emphasis on those who abuse legitimate means to remain in the UK, while putting human trafficking, modern slavery and clandestine people smuggling at the top of their list.

It might be the case that there’s less that UK law enforcement can do about some criminal threats. For instance, countering new emerging crimeware is likely to be a difficult and resource-intensive task, especially when you’re not sure of exactly how much damage a particular program might cause initially.

Either way, this rating system is a good communicative tool for law enforcement. The table presents their focus to the public, and the assessment gives their reasons. It also illustrates the impact of spending decisions when budgets are discussed with government. It’ certainly one the ACC might consider mirroring in a future threat assessment.

The second major difference involves the high priority given to criminal activity in prisons and ‘lifetime management’. The UK recognises that serious and organised crime can be perpetrated from prison, and that links among criminals, and between them and extremists, can be forged behind bars. This focus also reflects the tools available to UK law enforcement, which include parole conditions and serious and organised crime prevention orders, and the UK’s overall approach to countering serious and organised crime.

That area isn’t covered in Australia’s national-level documents, of which the ACC’s threat assessment and the National Organised Crime Response Plan 2015-18 are the most important. That could be because our prisons are run by state governments. Or perhaps it’s because education, health, prisons, civil regulations and social services aren’t properly considered when it comes to a national approach to dealing with serious and organised crime. Current thinking about how Australian governments can bring all of these instruments to bear on serious and organised crime is underdone, and that should change.