The NCA is a new crime-fighting agency with national and international reach, working in partnership with other law enforcement organisations to tackle serious and organised crime. It has an ambition to:
“…fight and cut serious and organised criminality. The NCA, in partnership with the police, other law enforcement agencies, business and the public, will ensure that those who commit serious and organised crime are tracked down, pursued and brought to justice; their groups and activity disrupted; and their criminal gains stripped away.”
The NCA has been designed to replace and abolish the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) which itself replaced the National Crime Squad only in 2006. It is therefore the third inception of an establishment designed to tackle organised crime to be launched in recent years. This provides some indication of the difficulty and level of resistance faced in this field. The concept for the NCA was first introduced in June 2010 however it did not come into being until 25 April 2013 when the Crime and Courts Act 2013 received Royal Assent. The National Crime Agency became fully operational on the 7 October 2013.
The vast majority of the NCA’s work will be what SOCA did already – illegal immigration, drug trafficking, slavery, cyber-crime and child sex exploitation. But there is a crucial difference in its powers: its first director-general Keith Bristow, a former chief constable of Warwickshire, will be able to insist that top officers do his bidding, which will make him the most powerful police officer in the land. He will be largely accountable for the success of the whole operation, including its ability to interact dynamically and efficiently with other law enforcement organisations.
Under the legislation that set up the NCA, it is anticipated that agreement should first be reached locally about which agency is best placed to take action against a given criminal group. But where agreement cannot be reached, the NCA can direct the provision of assistance or order that a particular task is undertaken. These powers are to be used alongside the specialist sectors of the NCA such as the Proceeds of Crime Centre, the Missing Persons Bureau and the UK Human Trafficking Centre. This is not an exclusive list and the NCA also performs several other additional specialist functions.
In order to function the NCA, which will be backed up by county police forces, will have 4,500 staff and a budget of £463 million. National Crime Agency Officers will be “triple warranted” – holding the collective powers and privileges of a constable, a customs officer, and an immigration officer. This maximises the NCA’s ability to fight organised crime; a burden to the whole country which is estimated to involve about 30,000 individuals, 7,500 organised gangs and cost the country up to £40 billion.