Preventing Serious and Organised Crime Needs to Move Upstream

The UK government's Prevent strategy on organised crime shifts away from a responsive law enforcement approach – but the domestic focus is still a missed opportunity.

This month the Home Office Strategic Centre for Organised Crime released its Prevent guide ‘Individuals at risk of being drawn into Serious and Organised Crime’. Adopting the ‘4P strategy’ (Prevent, Pursue, Protect, Prepare) that has been largely successful in counter-terrorism, it provides an innovative approach to organised crime.

While ‘Pursue’ maintains a law enforcement response to prosecute and disrupt serious and organised crime that is already present, the additional three Ps push the Serious and Organised Crime strategy in new directions that are more comprehensive. This includes preventing people from engaging in serious and organised crime, increasing protection against serious and organised crime, and reducing the impact of serious and organised crime.

The Prevent element is particularly innovative as it engages with elements that make the UK vulnerable to organised crime. The Prevent Guide sets out exactly what this means – identifying risk in terms of criminality, ability, networks and identity. Understanding the factors that put people at risk of becoming involved in serious and organised crime allows interventions to divert potential criminals.

Programmes that have emerged under Prevent include local interventions with gangs or troubled families to divert or support people at risk of becoming involved in serious and organised crime. Awareness raising programmes of the realities of organised crime are underway. Demand reduction programmes have been expanded beyond drugs to modern slavery and counterfeit goods. Offender management is also part of Prevent – whether through ancillary orders or rehabilitation.

Prevention Abroad

These programmes make a valuable contribution in deterring the involvement of individuals in organised crime here in the UK. But organised crime is not just a domestic problem, It is necessarily transnational, operating across multiple borders. In this context, the purely domestic focus of the Prevent strategy is a very narrow interpretation.

Taking modern slavery as an example. Individuals are coerced into travelling to the UK in Nigeria, Vietnam, Romania and elsewhere. Criminal groups facilitate their travel and documentation, and they are controlled by criminal groups once they arrive in the UK.

Deterring involvement with organised crime within the UK may make the final link of the supply chain more difficult. But as we have witnessed with other commodities, such as drugs, if there is demand, organised crime groups will find a way of getting their commodity to market. For instance, Albanian organised crime groups operating in the UK rely on a network across Europe and further afield to traffic illicit goods, and control the trade themselves once the goods are in the UK.

There is a value then in extending Prevent strategies further upstream. Targeting serious and organised crime abroad – before it reaches the UK –has become a key part of Pursue strategies, with the National Crime Agency working in partnership with law enforcement in other countries to stop drug flows for example. On modern slavery, Prevent strategies could work with vulnerable communities in source countries, raising awareness of the realities of trafficking.

This is of course an ambitious strategy and beyond the remit of the Home Office. However, the need for a comprehensive approach to organised crime is gaining wider recognition, and the Serious and Organised Crime strategy released in 2013 has strong partnerships at its core: ‘This is a cross-government strategy, not just a Home Office strategy’.

Prevent is a key area where a partnership with DfID and the FCO would be beneficial. In key source countries for modern slavery, DfID is already engaged in livelihoods programming and other initiatives to address the factors that make people vulnerable to coercion into slavery. Incorporating this into a broader Prevent strategy can only strengthen the UK’s response to Serious and Organised Crime.


Dr Sasha Jesperson

Associate Fellow

View profile

Explore our related content