How does serious organised crime harm people in Scotland?
Serious organised crime is characterised by individuals exploiting others for personal gain (usually wealth, but not always).
While SOCGs prey on the vulnerable members of our communities, threatening our society and business community, serious organised crime is not just something that happens "somewhere else" or to "other people". It affects us all and we pay for it every day, either directly as victims or indirectly by paying for the many services – eg police, prosecution, health services – that are required to respond to it.
The misuse of drugs is a significant harm for people in Scotland, with Scotland suffering consistently high levels of drug-related deaths per capita.
There is evidence to suggest that Serious Organised Crime has a disproportionate impact on Scotland's poorer communities, contributing to social and economic inequalities, and thereby increasing individual vulnerability. For communities where serious organised crime is deeply embedded, the cumulative effect of its presence can result in a degree of resignation to its impact. Fear and violence form part of the background to everyday life.
"When chaos is chaos and you see it everywhere, it's normal... ye see neighbours beating lumps out of each other, it's just what you see, it's only when you're older you realise." (Community respondent, Urban Embedded, male aged 18-30).
Police investigations relating to bogus workmen and doorstep crime have found that the average age of victims is 81. Most victims are women who live alone. After a crime of this type, victims suffer more rapid declines in health than non-victim peers.
Young people can be particularly at risk of exploitation and consequent exposure to harm including through greater exposure to violence, a risk of criminal record and custodial sentences, disengagement from education and a consequent reduction in life opportunities.
Legitimate businesses lose out when consumers opt to purchase counterfeit goods, often resulting in those businesses having to close, and people losing their jobs. They also lose out to corrupt businesses funded by serious organised crime that exist to launder the proceeds of crime. Such businesses have the unfair advantage of resources, funds and unscrupulous tactics at their disposal to give them an advantage over legitimate competition.
These might be small, local enterprises where the closure will be felt more strongly by the community they serve, leaving boarded-up premises, fewer jobs and furthering the conditions which allow organised crime to spread. Legitimate businesses may also be threatened with violence, forced to pay protection or forced to participate or facilitate in organised crime. There is also the possibility that many legitimate businesses may be forced to adopt underhand tactics in order to compete with SOCGs for survival.
Our public services are at risk – the more money that is spent on tackling the consequences of serious organised crime, the less there is to spend on public services. It is increasingly apparent that many organised criminals seek to legitimise themselves by bidding for public sector contracts, despite police intelligence linking them to serious organised crime. This has the knock-on effect of diverting income from legitimate operators, depriving them of turnover. We must all remain alert to the risks in relation to the awarding of public sector contracts and ensure that appropriate measures are in place to address these risks.
The harm done by serious organised crime can have lifelong implications, not just for individuals and their families but for communities and Scotland as a whole. If crime is normalised within a community, the more likely it is that vulnerable children and young adults will drift into involvement. The more serious organised crime groups are perceived to be "getting away with it", the less likely people are to report their suspicions, the more damage is done to their community and ultimately the greater the damage done to society as a whole.
SOCG operating methods, flexibility and responsiveness
While some organised criminals may specialise in a particular area of criminality, many are opportunistic in nature. SOCGs generally run as businesses, ready to expand into wherever they can make money quickest.
SOCGs do not abide by the same legal and moral constraints that the rest of society is content to live by. SOCGs see vulnerable people and communities as expendable assets to be exploited. Increasingly they operate internationally, even globally. They are flexible and quick to exploit any opportunity they can see for personal gain, whatever the cost to others.
While the COVID-19 pandemic caused considerable disruption to some spheres of criminal activity, it also increased the vulnerability of many people in Scotland either as victims of SOCGs or increasing the likelihood that they might become involved in serious organised crime. It demonstrated the adaptability of SOCGs to exploit a new situation quickly to their advantage.
All of this makes it important that we can flex more quickly to meet the threat posed by serious organised crime. We need to be as ready to adapt as they are. It requires us to tackle the threat holistically, not in silos. They don't operate in silos; we shouldn't either. This is why the Scottish Crime Campus has been so successful. Now we need to build on that success by emulating the Scottish Crime Campus model of threat identification and wider collaboration as explained in the following section.
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