Chief Constable Phil Gormley said “clear fractures” between various groups had led to “significant acts of violence” in the past few months.
He highlighted a number of shootings in Edinburgh and Glasgow, including a drive-by attack late last year.
Ewan Johnston, 26, was shot dead in Shields Road in Glasgow on November 15. Two men have been charged with his murder and are expected to stand trial later this year.
In a separate incident mentioned by the chief constable, Ross Monaghan was shot outside a primary school in Penilee, Glasgow, in January.
In a report to the Scottish Police Authority, Mr Gormley said there were a number of ongoing “feuds” between organised crime groups (OCGs). He said: “The past year has seen an increase in tensions between rival elements within the OCGs across the Central Belt. There are clear fractures between and within the OCGs which has led to significant acts of violence. These acts have been indiscriminate in nature and without regard for wider public safety. However, they have been targeted at individuals involved or associated to OCGs and have not caused injury to any other members of the public.”
Mr Gormley said the gangs were “long-standing, complex groups” who rely on family links as well as violence and intimidation.
He added: “More recently, we have seen the additional challenge of groups developing an enhanced capability and reliance upon technology to evade law enforcement. This level of complexity has meant the policing response has required a blend of overt and highly visible policing to disrupt the groups’ daily activities, along with the deployment of high-end specialist capability from our specialist crime division.”
He said a police operation which will lead to the trial of nine men this year had appeared to have caused “significant disruption” to the gangs.