Criminal gangs are using social media to deal drugs while exploiting high levels of mistrust in the police to bring misery to some of Scotland’s poorest communities.
A major report on serious organised crime carried out on behalf of the Scottish Government found a network of criminal gangs intervening in local disputes and using intimidation to prevent members of the public from speaking to law enforcement.
We heard from a range of people who saw the logic in participating in these crime groups as being for flash cars, ready cash and local prestigeDR NIALL HAMILTON-SMITH
The research, which took 18 months to complete, heard gang members described as “untouchable” amid warnings of amateur drug production likened to Breaking Bad.
The study, carried out by academics at Glasgow and Stirling University, found gangs using the darkweb and social media to “circumvent traditional supply routes” on the understanding police are “slow to respond” to new technologies.
And it said in some communities the relationship between the public and police was poor and “characterised by high levels of mistrust,” with the efforts of officers further undermined by gangs reporting bogus incidents in an effort to deliberately divert police resources.
The study was published alongside data from Ipsos Mori showing one in ten people have personally been affected by serious organised crime in the past three years, usually as victims.
Dr Niall Hamilton-Smith, senior lecturer at Stirling University, said tackling serious organised crime should not be seen principally as a policing issue.
He said: “We need a stronger set of partnerships across policing, community groups and service providers in order to better identify and address vulnerability and exploitation linked to organised crime.
“As well as developing new resources within these communities we also need to change the narrative around how we view organised crime.
“We heard from a range of people who saw the logic in participating in these crime groups as being for flash cars, ready cash and local prestige when in reality very few individuals attained any material success without detriment.”
He added: “If we are to address the real damage that is being done we need a counter-narrative that illustrates the difference between the myth and the reality of being involved in these groups.”
The report said the increased use of technology and social media-facilitated drug dealing had helped lead to a decline in street violence, but it said the gangs’ territorial identities remained.
Last week Police Scotland said it needed an extra £206 million to modernise its ageing computer system as it warned its ailing technology was giving the “bad guys an edge”.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson said: “We will consider carefully the [report’s] recommendations as we continue strengthening our collective approach to tackling and preventing organised crime.”