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OCG Mapping Group - 114/18

Date Responded 19 February 2018

Provision of information held by Northumbria Police made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 'Act')

As you may be aware the purpose of the Act is to allow a general right of access to information held at the time of a request, by a Public Authority (including the Police), subject to certain limitations and exemptions.

You asked:

1. For the calendar years 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 please provide a breakdown of the force’s data transferred to the organised crime group mapping project. For each year, please include a breakdown of age, gender, nationality, and ethnicity of individuals concerned. Please also provide a breakdown of crime types for each year.

In Response:

We have now had the opportunity to fully consider your request and I provide a response for your attention. We shall neither confirm nor deny any information regarding your request is held and be doing so we shall rely on the following exemptions:

 S23(5) Information supplied by or concerning certain security bodies

S24(2) National security

S31(3) Law enforcement

S40(5) Personal information

S38(2) Health and safety

 

Section 23(5) Information relating to the Security bodies

Section 23 is an absolute class-based exemption and therefore there is no requirement to conduct a harm or public interest test

 Section 40 (2) - Personal Information

Section 40 (2) is a class based absolute exemption and there is no requirement to consider the public interest in disclosure. That being said where Section 40(2) is engaged in order to make the exemption absolute there needs to be evidence that a data protection principle would be breached by disclosure. In this case it would not be fair to process information which, we believe by providing all the information you have requested, could lead to the identification of an individual. Therefore the first principle of the Data Protection Act would be breached.

 Evidence of Harm

The activities of organised crime groups within the UK are widespread and well known.  The Police Service works in partnership with other agencies in order to combat crime arising from organised crime group activities.  OCGs operate throughout the UK, and across force / county borders. It is therefore essential that information is shared between all forces to ensure OCG activity can be assessed and proactively dealt with.  However, in this case, to confirm or deny that requested information is held would undermine individual police forces’ capabilities, potentially having a detrimental effect on their ability to deal with the ongoing and increasing crimes from OCGs, and affecting the national agency’s work as a result.

 Confirming or denying that information is held for specific areas, especially by crime type, could give an overall picture within the UK of where OCGs are more active, or where opportunities could be available to OCGs in order to further their criminal activities.  Confirming or denying could therefore increase criminal activities in certain areas, and allow OCGs to determine those areas subject to police attention and take steps to avoid being investigated and prosecuted.

 As well as dealing with crimes committed by OCGs, police forces rely heavily on information submitted for developing intelligence, both within force areas and on a national basis. Confirming or denying information is held could identify individuals who have submitted intelligence to assist a police force, thus potentially putting them at risk from serious harm. 

 Confirming or denying information is held by a specific force would indicate whether police awareness of OCG activity has increased in an individual force area.  This could lead to the targeting of individuals who may have submitted intelligence, resulting in an upsurge of public tensions and the potential for elevated levels of violence and harm to the wider public.

Section 24

Factors favouring confirming or denying

The public has a right to know how its money is spent; confirming or denying that public money is being targeted in this area of policing would improve accountability, openness and transparency, particularly in respect of counter-terrorism and national security which are ever-growing concerns.  Confirming or denying might assist individuals in identifying areas where they are less likely to be targeted by OCGs and less likely, therefore, to be victims of crime.

 Factors favouring neither confirming nor denying

Confirming or denying details of information collated by individual forces across the country would show patterns of activity.  As this information would be intelligence-led, anything other than a neither confirm nor deny approach would indicate where national security concerns may exist and more importantly, where they may not exist.  This, in turn, would allow groups intent on compromising national security an insight as to whether or not they are subject to police attention and a clear view of those areas in which they may operate with impunity.

Disclosing specific data that is used to map OCG activity on a national basis could inform those involved in criminal activity of specific areas targeted by Police, or conversely, show areas in the UK where there may be opportunity to develop further criminal activities.  If the UK is seen as a ‘soft’ target by OCGs in other countries, it may encourage more influx of criminals intent on committing crimes in the UK.  With rival groups more and more active in the UK, there is further risk of an increase in violent crime between OCGs themselves.

For the public, living in areas highlighted as having high OCG offences, this will decrease their confidence in the police to combat crime, and lead to a rise in crime and community tensions.

 Section 31

Factors favouring confirming or denying

Confirming or denying whether a force has actively transferred information may lead to improved public awareness of the activities of organised crime groups, enabling members of the public to take steps to protect themselves against these criminal activities, and potentially lead to more information being submitted for intelligence gathering purposes.

 Factors favouring neither confirming or denying

To confirm or deny that requested information is held could compromise law enforcement tactics which would hinder the forces’ ability to prevent and detect OCG crimes.  Such organised crime group activities are increasing, both in number and extent of criminal activity, and would continue to do so if OCGs are able to gain knowledge about capabilities of police forces as a whole. OCGs will be able to determine vulnerabilities and specifically target those force areas where they see a potential area to exploit.

 Section 38

Factors favouring confirming or denying

Confirming or denying in this case might improve public awareness of the activities of organised crime groups and would increase knowledge of their activities; enabling members of the public to take steps to protect themselves against these criminal activities, and potentially lead to more information being submitted for intelligence gathering purposes.

 Factors favouring neither confirming or denying

Confirming or denying that requested information is held would ensure information identifying specific individuals as a result of mapping OCG activity would be protected, thus reducing the potential for violent crime against them.  In addition, confirming or denying whether information were held may reduce the potential of the force to protect the identities of individuals submitting this type of information.

 Balance Test

The security of the country is of paramount importance and the Police Service will not confirm or deny that certain information is held if to do so would place the safety of an individual at risk or undermine national security. Whilst there is a public interest in the transparency of policing operations, information gathering and submissions for a national mapping process provides assurance that the Police Service on a national basis is appropriately and effectively identifying and dealing with OCG activity. There is also a very strong public interest in safeguarding both national security and the integrity of police investigations, operations and ongoing intelligence development.

 Confirming or denying whether an individual force has transferred information to a national OCG database will give a national picture of OCG activity, whether recorded as crime or intelligence. This will adversely affect all police forces’ abilities to combat crime arising from OCGs in their specific areas, and on a national basis.  As OCGs operate across police boundaries and have the potential to adversely affect communities throughout the UK, leading to an increase of tension within and between communities and with further potential to promote civil unrest, maintaining an NCND position is critical on this occasion.

 Anything other than a neither confirm nor deny position in this case would be notification to the general public of the areas in which OCG activity has either been identified or critically, not identified, leading to criminals being able to derive an accurate intelligence picture as to (a) whether they may be on the police radar and (b) whether they are likely to be able to operate in certain areas with a reduced likelihood of being detected.  Confirming or denying in this case would therefore inevitably disclose intelligence about police tactics and operations, as well as highlighting areas of vulnerability which may be exploited.

 Furthermore, police resourcing is a contentious issue, with budget cuts affecting all aspects of policing; further increases in crime of this type will add to the strain on police budgets and again lead to increase in community tensions. Confirming or denying may indicate those force areas which invest more heavily in OCG disruption, again leading to further law enforcement compromises.

Finally, confirming or denying whether a specific force area has transferred information may potentially identify individuals who may have submitted intelligence, police officers who are actively investigating these groups, or indeed, other OCG individuals who have given information, for example,  as a result of arrest.

It is therefore our belief that the balance test lies in favour of neither confirming nor denying that such information is held.

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