Drugs Jun 28, 2020

Northern Ireland Drug Criminals Are Increasingly Using Social Media and the Dark Web

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has noted the significant…

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has been monitoring the occurrence of organized crime in a bid to curb its spread in the region – with reports indicating that criminal gangs in Northern Ireland have turned to social media and the dark web to sell drugs.

To fully understand the context of sophisticated crime in Northern Ireland, the PSNI denotes organized criminal gangs as syndicates that constitute two or more actors that partake in serious criminal activity.

According to 2019 estimations, there were approximately 35 organized crime syndicates in Belfast being investigated and managed at different law enforcement levels. It was revealed that a significant number of these organizations had paramilitary roots – with 15 percent having been created off foreign links and a host of extraterritorial criminal groups from China and Eastern Europe.

In North Belfast, designated paramilitary groups include the West Belfast UDA, the INLA, Action Against Drugs (AAD), New IRA and the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), which was reported to have metamorphosed to become the Irish Republican Movement.

Law Enforcement Agencies on High Gear

From the law enforcement standpoint, small organized criminal groups have always been easier to handle compared to their more advanced and equipped counterparts.

Detective Superintendent Rachel Shields from the PSNI’s serious crime branch weighed in on the current circumstance by stating the police adaptation of tactics in the fights against the online sale of illicit drugs.

According to Det Supt Shields, the premise reflected heavily on the fact that a reported 15 percent increase in drug-related arrests was witnessed in the year 2019. During the same period, it turns out that cannabis and benzodiazepines accounted for the most commonly seized drugs from suspects.

Otherwise, Officer Shields highlighted the increased sophistication of drug criminal gangs that have used dark web platforms to sell illicit prescription medication that offer a plethora of risks. She underscored that drugs sourced online stand to harm the user’s health considering that medical advice is never sought in such cases.

Further, she added that most of these drugs have been found to be counterfeit, while some drug consignments have turned out to be mixtures of unknown substances with varied degrees of potency.

A majority of drug-related deaths in Northern Ireland have been directly linked to the abuse of a wide range of prescription medicines.

Criminals Use the Dark Web and Social Media

According to latest PSNI figures, Northern Ireland is riddled with 100 active organized criminal gangs, with about 15 percent of these syndicates being connected to paramilitary groups.

Det Supt Shields revealed that about 80 percent of the all forms of organized crime in Northern Ireland were links to drug dealing activities – with a host of gangs choosing to exploit the internet to generate profit.

In highlight, the gangs have been known to employ the countless online platforms in existence, including dark web marketplaces, social media sites and online scamming websites. In the context of the fraud sites, periodic popup adverts are used to trick unsuspecting people into visiting the platforms that turn out to promote criminal interests.

Furthermore, Det Supt Shields intimated that the PSNI has resolved to scan social sites for illicit activity and have deployed a decent number of specialized detectives in this regard. The assumption that drug dealers may overly trust the anonymity promised by online platforms and associated tools is being considered.

The COVID-19 Influence

According to the PSNI, the first five weeks following the introduction of coronavirus lockdown restrictions were marked by a drop in drug offences in Northern Ireland, compared to the same period in the year 2019.

Det Supt Shields admitted that law enforcement operations were significantly affected by the COVID-19-related government measures – with arrests having reduced by half.

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