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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 12:05 GMT
Organised crime: Are the police doing enough?

Organised crime has changed a great deal since the 1960s, when the Krays held sway over the East End of London - now it is a multi-billion pound business.

The top echelon of organised criminals are not armed robbers, but big-league drug smugglers, who are often involved in trafficking tobacco, alcohol and even humans.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) recently had its budget increased from 49m to 70m in an effort to win the battle against organised crime.

But does Britain need, for example, legislation, similar to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in the US, which would give police and Customs & Excise broader powers to take down organised criminals without having to catch them red-handed?

Is a more radical thinking required? Are the police doing enough to tackle organised crime? Should there be heavier penalties?

This Talking Point is part of a week of crime specials. Click to read your comments on Yob Culture, Tagging and Miscarriages of justice.

This Talking Point is now closed. A selection of your e-mails are posted below.

We should learn a bit from Saudi Arabia

Mr Harry Wentworth, Torquay, Devonshire, England
It is quite simple. We should learn a bit from Saudi Arabia. They don't have too many of these problems once their justice methods have been employed.
Mr Harry Wentworth, Torquay, Devonshire, England

Glenn - the extra cost of prescribing drugs on the NHS will easily be offset by the reduction in the spending on crime. As for the silent majority who are only waiting for drugs to be decriminalised before taking up the habit themselves - I don't think so. The nearest the majority of people come to drugs is when they have their house burgled by an addict needing money for their habit.
Gill, UK

Until I read the comments below, I thought that I was a voice crying in the wilderness. Why cannot politicians accept that it is their prohibitionist and taxation policies that are the cause of many of society's problems? OK, we had the Krays in the sixties, but they were the exception. Organised crime has only been able to establish itself in the UK because Government policies have made it worthwhile. Government policies have turned the medical problems of drug, tobacco and alcohol abuse into social problems.
Brian, UK

The single most lucrative source of income for organised crime is illegal drugs. It is their lifeblood. By legalising and controlling drugs, organised crime will be dealt a blow from which they cannot recover. It has been pointed out that they will turn to something else, but whatever it may be, it cannnot generate the same gigantic untaxed income that drugs bring. Legalise drugs and organised crime will diminish massively.
John Yates

The war on drugs continues to let organised crime make substantial profits

Paul, UK
In the 20s, organized crime appeared in the US in response to alcohol prohibition and drive-by shootings with innocent bystanders being killed were common. The war on drugs continues to let organised crime make substantial profits and we have drive-by shootings even in this country. In both cases, the existence of a black market allowed massive profits to be made and the illegality of it made it impossible to settle grievances in the courts. It also resulted in wide-spread corruption amongst politicians and law officers which persists to this day. Organized crime does not want the war on drugs to stop any more than it wanted alcohol prohibition to stop. We could choose to have addictive (e.g., heroin) and harmful (e.g., cocaine) drugs available to those who wish to use them recreationally on prescription. We could choose to have non-addictive but powerful drugs available in pharmacies without prescription. We could choose to have soft drugs sold in licensed premises just as alcohol and tobacco (which are more harmful) are. Instead we choose to have all drugs (with the exception of the addictive and harmful alcohol and tobacco) sold on the streets and pour money into the hands of organized crime. And our ridiculous lack of harmonization with other EU tobacco taxes means that over half the tobacco sold in this country is bootlegged - our politicians never learn.
Paul, UK

Take the assets of transglobal crime organizations after a thorough investigation of the asset flows via government corruption, corporate bribery, and subornation of judiciaries. Prosecute drug and gun runners on global TV. Arrest and incarcerate ... repeat process consistently.
Ron, USA

Organised crime is totally profit based and the violence that stems from this is greed taking over. If this is so, then surely lessening some of these profits would curb some of the crime. Most people know complete drug legalisation would never work but would it be so difficult to decriminalise some of these drugs and reduce the huge taxes put on tobacco and alcohol?
K Hardie, England

Decriminalising drugs will, maybe, remove the organised crime element in the short term (until they find something else to do) but will cause a huge increase in spending on the NHS because of all the users who can suddenly find cheap dope. And what about all those "law abiding" citizens out there who can suddenly use the forbidden fruit without fear of prosecution? The silent majority. Continue prosecuting, make it tougher for the dealers and smugglers. The reason prices increase after tougher policies is that fewer drugs are getting to the streets so dealers have to put up prices to maintain their profits.
Glenn, UK

It depends whether the public are ready to accept the draconian laws needed to fight organised crime

Tom, Australia
It depends whether the public are ready to accept the draconian laws needed to fight organised crime. Here, in WA, they have introduced laws to confiscate assets of suspected criminals, who then have to prove the assets were acquired legally. It wouldn't really surprise me if organised crime has been tolerated by the government to enable them to assume strong new powers.
Tom, Australia

How about getting the mob to run the police unit? It seems that organised crime can outrun, outshoot and outdo the cops in every possible way. There would be no better way than to get a man from the inside, with inside knowledge, running the police operation. If you could find the right man/woman, it'd be a terrific operation.
Jonathan Bensley, Australia

Do we blame street cleaners if their is rubbish floating around our towns and countryside? No, we all take responsibility and campaigns are advertised to raise awareness. It is the same about crime, it is not just up to the police to sort it, we all have a responsibility to help the authorities to let them know what we know ... After all, organised crime gets their money from us, why should they benefit from our silence?
smilerthecheshirecat, UK

The way you deal with organised crime is to adopt business attitudes and fight it that way

Mike W, US (UK Citizen)
The way you deal with organised crime is to adopt business attitudes and fight it that way. That is the attitude those at the top of the crime pile run their illegal businesses. A law similar to RICO would be a step in the right direction. Since organised crime is now a global/international business then such a law would have to be international and enforced by an international police organisation. Until governments from all countries can agree then I fear that there will never be any way to be truly effective against organised crime. There is an old saying. Evil lives in a pit. To fight it you have to climb in the pit with it.
Mike W, US (UK Citizen)

Stuart Stauton-Davies' idea that we should use the Inland Revenue is good in principle. However, I have a real problem imagining a British tax inspector playing the role of a latter-day Elliot Ness. The mind boggles...
Mark B, UK

Organised crime is not something that can be beaten with current strategies. It seems like every other week the government are planning a 'crackdown' on one thing or another. The 'criminals' will always be one step ahead of the police as the ringleaders are clever enough to employ cannon fodder to do all the risky work for them, whilst they keep away from the action and just watch the tax free money roll in. Organised crime works like any other business, take away the customers and the business will collapse. The only way to do this is to end prohibition and provide legal, reasonably priced alternatives so people will stop handing over their money to the criminals.
Phil, UK

It is about time that people recognised the broader social implications of drug and cigarette smuggling

Andrew V, Wales
It is about time that people recognised the broader social implications of drug and cigarette smuggling. Despite utterances to the contrary, there are always victims of these crimes and the harm caused by these career criminals often stems outside the UK. The proposed legislation will prove vital in fight against organised crime.
The Government should strongly consider the formation of a single national law enforcement agency capable of tackling all aspects of organised crime.
Andrew V, Wales

Why can't politicians ever learn anything from history? The Prohibition Act in the twenties in the US, only served to make millionaires of gangsters by outlawing easily smuggled and previously lawful commodities (alcohol) from across the US borders, namely Canada and Mexico. This similarity now exists between France and the UK, yet there are no plans to change any tax allowances on alcohol or cigarettes. Why do politicians stubbornly refuse to believe they are ever wrong and that the public is right? The smuggling of tobacco will only ever continue as long as such an unjust and unfair tax exists. We workers in the UK always pay more for everything than our European counterparts.
Nick Davies, UK

People suspected of profiting from crime should be audited by the Inland Revenue

Stuart Stanton-Davies, UK
People suspected of profiting from crime should be audited by the Inland Revenue. If the cost of their lifestyle exceeds their legitimate income, then they can be prosecuted for failure to pay income tax. This was the way the Americans fixed Al Capone before they realised that Prohibition was a bad idea. Strange that this country continues the idea of prohibition by using extreme taxation, when there is such a good example of how bad an idea it is.
Stuart Stanton-Davies, UK (until forced out by IR35)

Wait till those hardened, gun wielding bank robbers exceed 30 mph in a controlled zone. Then they'll get their what-for.
Neil Pearce, Richmond, England

Don't oversimplify. If it wasn't drugs or cheap cigarettes, organised crime would find something else to profit from - protection rackets perhaps.
Bob, UK

The Government has only itself to blame for the huge tobacco and drinks smuggling racket. We are supposed to be party to Europe and yet our tax system is so disparate to our closest neighbour. Madness. Time and money should not be spent trying to reclaim tax that is immorally high in the first place. Who are the bigger thieves? I would rather they concentrate on drug and people trafficking. These are the real exploiters, the real criminals.
Alex, NZ (ex-pat)

the police are being made to fight losing battles in a war that can never be won

Richard P, UK
The key to tackling organised crime is to remove the black markets that allow it to flourish. Banning recreational drugs has created a hugely lucrative source of income for organised crime and, in the UK, the imbalance between our tax policies and France's has made it profitable to smuggle cigarettes and alcohol - if we had land borders petrol would also be smuggled with equal enthusiasm. These are all government made problems and the police are being made to fight losing battles in a war that can never be won.
Richard P, UK

The authorities are probably doing all they can but, down market, the drug business is very fragmented ... deliberately, of course, so that the real kingpins can't be connected; and they don't live in the UK. Until the UN has a police force, these problems will persist.
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

With the advent of anonymous pre-paid mobile phones and e-mail addresses, tackling international crime is harder than ever. We need to set up a UN run world-wide police type organisation capable of carrying out investigations and arrests throughout the world. Otherwise we will never have a chance of outsmarting already smart opposition.
Alex Banks, Wales, Living in Sweden

It is a whole new opportunity for criminals created by well-meaning, but short-sighted, politicians

Rupert Eve, England
As long as there are prohibited substances that can be traded at ten times profit margins, then there will be organised crime. Until the government is willing to think radically about drugs, we will have this problem. For example, the "crime" of cigarette smuggling did not exist 20 years ago - it is a whole new opportunity for criminals created by well-meaning, but short-sighted, politicians.
Rupert Eve, England

Until this government gets itself sorted out organised crime will continue to flourish. Who would pay 4.25 for a packet of cigarettes when you can buy them for 2.50 at local markets. Who buys bottles of gin when you can get a bottle for 5 if you know the right people? If the government could even get close to the efficiency of organised crime we would be living in a much more prosperous country.
Dave Jones, UK

There is a simple solution to organised crime - end prohibition. In this country drug retail is the money source behind organised crime. Decriminalise drug use and you cut organised crime off at the knees.
Richard Grainger, Brighton, UK

I'm sure the police are doing everything they can - within their budgets, the law and any other constraints that may hinder them. Given the police often know exactly who they should arrest but can't, legislation similar to RICO would be very welcome.
Richard G, UK

Well as regards international drug smugglers we can take away their income to large extent by relaxing our drug polices. What is often forgotten is the last people in the world who want any relaxation on drug prohibition are those involved in organised crime. New toughing of prohibition will increases prices and profits for the organised criminals. Why don't we use the money we spend now on enforcing prohibition on drug education and treatment? We can certainly never win a prohibition war as has been proved a number of times if you read the history books.
David, UK

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