Understanding Serious Organised Crime

30 June 2020


What societal factors allow organised crime to flourish? What do we know about the roots of organised crime and how people end up at risk of becoming involved in these forms of criminal activity?

In 2018, the British government published the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy, which aims to lay out the government's response to a range of criminal activities. In tackling serious and organised crime, the Home Office's strategic objectives are to pursue offenders, to build a resilient system capable of preparing and protecting society and those within it, and to prevent people from engaging in criminal activities. Jenny Parfrement-Hopkins, Lead Analyst for Organised Crime Research, Analysis and Insight at the Home Office, has described the publication of this strategy as an opportunity to re-open dialogue between the Home Office, government researchers, and the wider research community. This research community includes those working in universities at centres such as Portsmouth's Centre for Counter Fraud Studies, and those within think tank organisations such as RUSI and SHOC.

Speaking at a CSaP panel on serious organised crime, Keith Ditcham, Senior Research Fellow and Director of RUSI’s Organised Crime and Policing Research Group, described solutions to organised crime as inherently complex, and necessitating a holistic approach. There is a need not only for cutting edge research, said Mr Ditcham, but for organisations such as SHOC to convene and coordinate, with the goal of fostering better conversations amongst those working to respond to the challenges posed by serious and organised crime. Panellists also acknowledged the need for increased horizon-scanning within this field of study and pointed out that there remains a lot we do not understand about the current and future markets for organised crime.

Dr Anna Sergi, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Essex, concurred that we need both short-term and long-term approaches for understanding how organised crime fits systemically within our society. She noted that the ways in which societies relate to money, stigmatise other cultures, develop laws, regulations, societal norms, and family values, are difficult to untangle from the organised crime that exists within that society. However, she also highlighted that in the wake of covid-19 and Brexit, we need to be cognisant of how crisis events can create or necessitate new pathways, networks, and opportunities for collusion for those engaged in criminality.

Throughout the session, panellists predicted that Brexit will "make things harder" in the UK's fight against organised crime. Based on insights from his past experiences as an international liaison and RUSI's work on the future of the UK-EU relationship in combatting organised crime, Mr Ditcham predicted that the UK faces a "fairly difficult" negotiation about the future of this relationship in areas such as access to European databases, and that bilateral negotiations with individual countries may be necessary in some cases. However, he noted that the UK is a major contributor to intelligence and information sharing throughout Europe, and that there will be losses on both sides if that is not maintained.

Meanwhile, with respect to the potential impacts of covid-19 upon organised crime, Professor Mark Button, Director of the Centre for Counter Fraud Studies at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Criminal Justice Studies, noted that the coming recession and financial stress create the conditions in which individuals are at a higher risk of becoming engaged in criminality. Here, Ms. Parfrement-Hopkins also noted the importance of the global economic context, and emphasised that we should expect changes to organised crime on an international level.

In 2018, the Home Office released a research priorities document, highlighting understanding threats, criminal markets, vulnerabilities, and what works as areas where there is a need for further research. You can learn more about the UK’s research priorities in the area of serious and organised crime here.

This virtual seminar was part of CSaP’s 2020 Virtual Annual Conference Seminar Series, which ran throughout the months of May and June. To learn more, please visit our annual conference events page.

Photo by David von Diemar on Unsplash