It is no secret that organised crime has hit Britain with a heavier force than ever before. With social and economic losses of up to £40 billion a year, it has become clear that a stronger and more powerful authority is needed to tackle this ever-growing threat to national security. Britain’s response? The National Crime Agency (NCA) – otherwise known as “Britain’s FBI”.

Until now, no single body has had sufficient overview and command in order to tackle the widespread effects of organised crime. In practical terms, this has meant that there have been inconsistencies with resource-allocation and methodology.

The NCA is a product of the amalgamation of resources and expertise found within individual operational commands. The new structure is being dubbed “Britain’s FBI” due to its combined function as both a national policing and investigations agency, and an intelligence-gathering unit.

The NCA has adopted the style of the crime-fighting FBI, not only in structure, but also in appearance. The officers will wear black tunics emblazoned with the NCA logo in order to alert criminal gangs of their presence.

This new agency has been described by Home Secretary Theresa May as the “most radical reform of policing for 50 years”. The NCA has absorbed the powers of several law enforcement organisations in order to fight serious organised crime from every route.

The new structure will allow for a more co-ordinated plan to police organised crime rather than the fragmented approach that has been in place thus far.  The NCA will operate under the four following commands:

  • Organised Crime Command
  • Border and Policing Command
  • Economic Crime Command
  • Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command.

The ability to share intelligence, expertise and resources between these four commands means that the NCA will operate in a more thorough and efficient manner.  A combination of such skill and intelligence has been designed in order to ensure a higher prioritisation of national operational response.

The NCA, which has replaced the Serious Organised Crime Agency, is positioned to deploy powers that go beyond that of a police officer. Subject to training, an officer may be endowed with the powers of a constable, customs officer and immigrations officer. In turn, this means that the NCA is subject to rigorous independent scrutiny and accountability to a number of bodies, including the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Office of Surveillance Commissioners.

Unlike the FBI however, the NCA will not become involved with terrorism-related matters, which will remain in the control of Scotland Yard. Instead, efforts will be focussed on delivering response through four pillars:

  • pursue – identify and disrupt serious and organised crime by investigating and enabling the prosecution of those responsible
  • prevent – people from becoming involved in serious organised criminal activity
  • protect – reduce the impact of serious and organised crime
  • prepare – strengthen protection against serious and organised crime.

The Labour Party, amongst many other critics, has labelled the emergence of the NCA as just another branding exercise. Some are concerned that with a force of 4,500 staff and a budget of £453 million, there will be confusion with resource-allocation and accountability.

However, Director General Keith Bristow is confident that “there will be no one beyond the reach of law enforcement or beyond the reach of the NCA.”

It remains to be seen whether this new FBI-style of crime-fighting will indeed transform the UK’s operational response to organised crime, and ensure that those involved are identified, pursued, and brought to justice.

Mackrell Turner Garrett