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Illustration by Security Management

EU Organized Crime Groups Fueling Rise in Violent Crime

The European Union warned in November 2020 that COVID-19 would have a significant and long-lasting impact on organized crime and terrorism in Europe. Cross-border law enforcement agency Europol said that economic hardships, lockdowns, and uncertainty would produce new and growing challenges for law enforcement and security agencies. In the first half of 2020, violence among organized crime groups (OCGs) increased across EU member states, pointing to expansions of territory and criminal activity, according to How COVID-19-Related Crime Infected Europe During 2020.

Now, Europol released a new report examining reports from member states to Europol over recent years, noting a rise in the number of violent incidents—including an increased willingness to resort to lethal violence—associated with serious and organized crime groups.

“The involvement in criminal gangs of younger and inexperienced hitmen and the accessibility of firearms and explosives, together with violent incidents often perpetrated in crowded public places and broad daylight are considerable threats to public safety," the report found.

Large ports and streets in surrounding cities are especially vulnerable, given their use as transit ports for illicit trade. The rise in violence in these markets, Europol noted, can be tied to growing competition in criminal markets—especially cocaine and cannabis. These markets have attracted new players recently, driving power struggles and straining law enforcement resources. Fewer cases of serious violence have been reported in heroin or synthetic drug trafficking.

“It is worth highlight that while organized crime groups recognize the expedient value of force, they have historically tended to resort to violence only when other forms of intimidation provide inadequate,” the report, The Use of Violence by Organised Crime Groups, said. “This is because violence attracts the attention of law enforcement agencies, which is often incompatible with the profit-driven motives of those involved in organized crime.”

However, the power shifts in organized crime recently are driving groups to reconsider their priorities—while violence might attract the notice of law enforcement, it can also quickly strengthen a group’s reputation in the criminal environment, serve as retaliation for a feud, demoralize other groups, and intimidate others into compliance.

An increase in serious violence notably affects non-OCG members, including victims of human trafficking, violent robberies, law enforcement officers, lawyers, witnesses, informants, investigative journalists, and dock workers who refuse to cooperate, Europol warned.

Violence is also being marketed as a commodity in certain OCGs, the report said. Contract killings vary between €10,000 and €100,000 in cash, although some member states reported to Europol that costs for hits are decreasing significantly as the number of younger and inexperienced criminals are willing and available to be hired for murders.

“While organized crime groups have always been associated with violence, Europol is observing a spike in serious violent acts," said Jari Liukku, head of Europol's European Serious Organised Crime Centre, in the report. "This trend is unlikely to decrease in the short term as violence will thrive from organized crime opening to diversity and competition, becoming more digitalized, and expanding its global reach. The cooperation at regional and international level is of utmost importance to tackle this threat posed by organized crime.”