Police waging war on 180 crime gangs
There are up to 180 gangs committing a wide range of crime in NI, police have said.
The PSNI and other law enforcement agencies are devoting increasing resources to tackling the threat posed by well-organised gangs, but their activities are also on the rise.
The extent of the problem was revealed in the annual report of the Organised Crime Task Force.
It revealed that police last year seized illegal drugs valued at £13m.
That is up from £9m the previous year.
In addition, the PSNI and customs officials seized more than 23m counterfeit and smuggled cigarettes.
End Quote Organised Crime Task Force
Despite publicly denouncing organised criminality, dissident republican groups remain largely dependent on organised crime to fund their terrorist activities,”
The report also highlighted the growing activities of gangs involved in human trafficking, with increasing numbers of people being brought to Northern Ireland and forced to work as prostitutes or as cheap labour.
During the past year, 33 potential victims of human trafficking were rescued in a series of police raids.
Seventeen were women trafficked to work in the sex industry, and one for labour exploitation.
Seven were men brought here to work as cheap labour. The eight others were all aged under 18 and were trafficked for work in the sex industry.
Mr Ford paid tribute to the law enforcement agencies involved.
"Behind virtually every successful raid, every successful seizure, is a law enforcement investigation, often complex and resource intensive and often involving more than one agency," he said.
"We should not lose sight of the actions taken by the various enforcement agencies, they have saved lives. They have rescued victims of human trafficking, removed illegal drugs from the streets and disrupted numerous crime gangs."
He added: "It is clear there are those who are part-time terrorists and part time criminals. We need to make sure that we bear down on all those activities."
According to the police, there are currently up to 180 organised crime gangs operating in Northern Ireland.Disrupted
During the past year, the PSNI says it has dismantled 23 such gangs and frustrated or disrupted the activities of a further 106.
The report says those criminal gangs include dissident republicans and loyalist paramilitaries.
"Despite publicly denouncing organised criminality, dissident republican groups remain largely dependent on organised crime to fund their terrorist activities," it said.
The range of activities they are engaged in is said to include fuel laundering, tobacco smuggling and supplying drugs. Loyalist paramilitaries are said to be involved in a similar range of crimes.
During the past year, 30 fuel laundering plants were closed down and 863,000 litres of illegal fuel with a street value of £1.3m was seized.
Assets worth a further £4.5m were also seized from criminals. Of this, £1.5 million was distributed among a variety of law enforcement agencies for investment in projects aimed at reducing crime and the fear of crime.
Almost £800,000 was given to community projects across Northern Ireland for a range of activities to reduce crime and the fear of crime.
"Criminals engage in organised crime to make money," said David Ford.
"Taking the profit out of crime and stemming the flow of criminal finances is therefore an essential part of the criminal justice response to fighting crime and making our community safer."