Largest drug trafficking criminal organisation in the Balkans is busted

Thirty-five coordinated simultaneous house searches were carried out in Serbia and the Netherlands in early May 2023, targeting both the leaders of the cartel and the drug distribution infrastructure. Seven other members of this criminal organisation had been arrested in Belgium in 2021. Two people were previously arrested for other crimes in Serbia and Peru, while another suspect was arrested in the Netherlands on 8th May of this year.

In total, 23 people have been arrested in this international police operation, including the three leaders of the criminal organisation, considered by Europol as high-value targets.

As a result of the searches, a significant amount of incriminating material was seized, such as: 15 high-end cars, jewellery and luxury watches worth an estimated 2 million euros and almost 3 million euros in cash, weapons and explosives, including 2 sniper rifles, 3 automatic rifles, guns, silencers, 24 detonator capsules and 5 devices for remote initiation of detonators, 13 packs of plastic explosives and several hundred rounds of ammunition.

This cross-border operation is the result of intelligence development within the framework of the Europol operational task force investigating the use of the Sky ECC encrypted communication platform, which has been removed since March 2021.

Serbia was able to identify key targets on its territory and trace their criminal activities worldwide, in cooperation with France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and with the support of Europol’s Drugs Unit.

This criminal organisation is believed to be behind shipments of several tonnes of cocaine that arrived in Europe directly from Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, or by transiting through logistical infrastructures in West Africa.

This criminal gang was known in the criminal realm for its extreme violence and for its constant involvement in high-end robberies. One of the targets arrested in Serbia was a former leader of the notorious Pink Panther criminal group.

Thanks to the analysis of Sky ECC data, at least seven tonnes of cocaine seized at European ports in 2020 were linked to this cartel, including: 700 kilos of cocaine seized in Rotterdam, Netherlands; 1.2 tonnes of cocaine seized in Hasselt, Belgium; and 5 tonnes of cocaine seized in Aruba, Netherlands Antilles.

The crime bosses, arrested in Belgrade as part of this operation, were the largest cocaine traffickers in the Western Balkans identified as part of ongoing analysis work conducted on Sky ECC data.

The recent removal of three encrypted communication tools used by criminals, such as Encrochat, Sky ECC and Anom, showed the prevalence of Balkan criminals in the global cocaine trade and organised crime activities.

To respond to this threat, Europol created the operational task force called the ‘Balkan Cartel’ and brought together countries in Europe and around the world to effectively attack this threat originating from this region. This action day will be the result of this operational task force.

In addition, Europol has been provided with continuous analysis and development in the field of intelligence to support field researchers. Two Europol staff members were also dispatched to Belgrade to support the Serbian authorities with their investigative measures during this day of action.

Eurojust enabled judicial cooperation between the countries involved in the investigation.


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Canada plans to stop rallying police in mental health crisis situations

Increasing demands for police services to respond to people in mental health crisis in Canada are causing significant burdens on already inadequate police resources.

With the obvious worsening of community mental health, accelerated as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic, governments have unwittingly tasked police services with a job they should not be doing.

This has meant that the police are increasingly being called upon to provide interventions in what is essentially mental health care. The police have thus become responsible for addressing challenges that police forces are ill-equipped to deal with. It also means that resources in traditional police work such as investigating organised crime, ensuring public safety, etc. are decreasing.

The Canadian healthcare system has been unable to meet this growing demand for mental health care. The country’s collective response has failed to build sufficient capacity to manage the risks and cope with this demand.

In the case of the police in England and Wales, they report that between 20 and 40% of police work time is being spent dealing with mental health-related calls and incidents.

Moreover, some experts say that, in the case of those who argue that police forces would simply need to better train frontline officers to optimally manage this challenge, the stark reality is that this would be a poor use of police resources. So, what they propose as the correct response to the problem is to provide trained mental health professionals with in-depth knowledge and experience, dedicated to these diseases and in a position to deliver and manage mental health crises from the frontline.

Thus, the police reform being proposed in Canada to address this systemic problem is putting officers in this support role, rather than asking them to lead a wide range of complex challenges around mental health. As a basic principle this reform would endeavour to make Canadian society a safer and healthier society.

Callers for change in this area add that if what is desired is effective policing, making society a safer place to live and work, it would be critical to identify and address the challenges facing modern policing. And to find an effective response to the growing problem of mental health, the important thing would not be to better train the police; while this is an admirable goal and could provide some benefits, we cannot forget the excessive workloads and lack of resources that have been dragging on for some time.

Policy makers should address the problem by investing in training in frontline mental health intervention, increasing the number of professionals and increasing the capacity to act of those who work in the health system.


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Panic in Brazil due to new serious cases of police violence

Public opinion in Brazil was shaken in early May this year by alleged new cases of police violence, with allegations of torture in the case of bodies found after a police operation in a favela and, above all, in the case of a man who died of asphyxiation inside the boot of an official police vehicle in the town of Umbauba. The Federal Highway Police (PRF) claimed that the agents used immobilisation techniques and weapons of low offensive potential in the face of the detainee’s strong aggressiveness at a police checkpoint.

The shootout in the favelas of the Complexo do Alemão on 4th May was so intense that the elite squad of the Rio de Janeiro Military Police ran out of ammunition in just two hours. It is noteworthy that the final result of the operation was 18 people dead.

According to police, the operation, which involved some 400 uniformed personnel, targeted a group of individuals suspected of car and bank robberies as well as attacks on police stations. Among the deceased were two women, some fifteen suspects and a policeman.

But various security experts, relatives of the victims and residents of the area questioned the police action as they considered it to be extremely violent. For example, one of the dead women was shot while driving her vehicle down a nearby avenue. The other died while police were removing barricades in the area, although uniformed officers deny that the projectile came from their weapons.

Called a “massacre” by many elected officials and community activists, the police raid has turned out to be the second deadliest in Rio’s history in a favela.

As a result of the events, the human rights organisation Human Rights Watch also expressed its dismay in a public statement. It is worth mentioning that Brazil has one of the police forces with the most fatalities in police custody and with the most police officers killed in the line of duty in the world. For example, in 2021 there were 6,100 fatalities in police operations, while 183 law enforcement officers were killed, according to the Violence Monitor project.

What is true is that this police operation has been the one that has generated the strongest public reactions in Rio de Janeiro, as explained by Geni, a study group on public security and violence at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). And it is this foundation that believes that police operations lack effectiveness, are often motivated by a thirst for revenge and revel in total impunity.

In addition, there were two other police operations in the last 14 months that resulted in even more deaths. One police operation was in the favela of Jacarezinho in May 2021 – the deadliest in Rio de Janeiro, with 28 fatalities – and the second, in Vila Cruzeiro in May 2023, with 23 deaths.

The Rio police force assures that these actions are based on intelligence reports and are carried out in accordance with the law, justice and technical operational protocols.

But the reality is that the increase in street violence and the growing militarisation of public security operations are contributing to a very confusing situation. The convoluted institutional role of the Military Police and the increasingly important role of the Army demonstrate that, unlike what happens in developed countries, in Brazil the duties of national defence are dangerously mixed with those of maintaining domestic order.


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European law enforcement and judicial authorities carry out the largest coordinated attack on organised crime in Italy

132 members of one of the world’s most powerful criminal networks have been arrested during a collaborative day of action carried out by 10 countries. Early on 3 May, police authorities in Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Romania, Brazil and Panama raided a number of locations and seized several companies. More than 2,770 agents were on the ground during the massive operation.

Eurojust and Europol supported this international operation against the ‘Ndrangheta, which has become the biggest success involving the Italian crime syndicate to date. The mafia organisation is responsible for much of the cocaine trade in Europe, combined with systematic money laundering, bribery and violence.

The criminal network under investigation was led by several powerful ‘Ndrangheta families based mainly in the Italian province of Reggio Calabria, in the city of San Luca, more precisely. Some of these families have been involved in decades-long clan violence known as the ‘San Luca feud’, which has led to mass shootings in Italy and abroad such as, for example, the 2007 Duisburg massacre in Germany.

In addition to being members of a mafia organisation, some of the criminal network’s members were also behind criminal conspiracies involving drug trafficking, illegal possession of firearms, trafficking illegally obtained firearms, money laundering, fraudulent asset registration, tax fraud, and tax evasion, as well as aiding and abetting fugitives (who have since been detained). Two of these fugitives had been on the European Union’s most wanted list.

The Italian criminal network mainly engaged in international drug trafficking from South America to Europe, as well as to Australia. Authorities discovered that the network was working in collaboration with the Colombian organised crime group Gulf Clan and an Albanian-speaking criminal group operating in Ecuador and several European countries.

In addition, ‘Ndrangheta clans were involved in international firearms trafficking from Pakistan to South America, providing equipment to the notorious criminal group PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital) in exchange for cocaine shipments. Investigators tracked the flow of money in an extensive global money laundering scheme, with massive investments in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.

The criminal group was investing profits in real estate, restaurants, hotels, car washes, supermarkets and other commercial activities. The criminals often relied on facilitators who used the hawala system to pay for cocaine or transfer illicit assets.

Eurojust supported the police authorities involved by setting up and financing two joint investigation teams. The agency also hosted ten coordination meetings after setting up a centre to enable rapid cooperation between the judicial authorities involved in the day of action. Three cases linked to Eurojust were opened at the request of Italian, German and Belgian authorities. Eurojust also facilitated the transmission and execution of European investigation orders.

Europol’s Italian organised crime analysis project supported the investigation as a priority case and provided cross-matching reports to the national research units involved. In total, more than 200 SIENA messages were exchanged between involved parties. In addition to supporting the investigation itself, the analysis project also supported the investigation of the three fugitives.


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Police-involved deaths significantly increase in Canada

The latest data released by Canada’s Tracking (In)Justice project suggests that the average annual number of police-involved deaths between 2011 and 2022 increased by two-thirds compared to the average annual figure for the previous decade. Project members Andrew Crosby, Alexander McClelland and Tanya L. Sharpe believe that this increase, along with the racial disparity and jurisdictional variations in these numbers, support the need to call for greater accountability, transparency and scrutiny of police conduct in Canada.

According to the authors of the project, it is clear that fatal encounters with police are increasing year after year in Canada. The number of civilians killed in incidents with police where force was used has steadily been increasing since 2000. This is leaving families and communities with little support or resources to hold them accountable.

But one of the main problems is that there is no Canadian or foreign agency or institution working on, for example, an up-to-date, centralised data set or a mechanism to track fatalities and provide information on the victim, the location, the police service involved, the type of force used and many other contextual details.

This is carried out solely by members of the Tracking (In)Justice project, which documents and analyses police-involved deaths where force was used in Canada. Tracking (In)Justice is a partnership between academics and advocates who aim to shed light on police violence to help inform demands for accountability, transparency and change in policing institutions.

Collecting this information provides the possibility to ask new questions, such as why some police forces have more frequent deaths under their belt than others.

There have long been calls for police and governments to collect and share data on incidents in which the use of force results in civilian injuries and deaths. Journalists, academics, civil society groups and victims’ families have been engaged in this work for a long time now.

Preliminary findings indicate that incidents involving the use of force are on the rise, with the highest number being from 2022. Part of this long-term trend may be due to increased access to information about police-involved killings and deaths. But access to information alone does not explain the remarkable increase in recent years.

According to data from Tracking (In)Justice, there was an average of 22.7 police-involved deaths per year between 2000 and 2010. In comparison, an average of 37.8 people died each year between 2011 and 2022. This represents a 66.5% increase.

Gunshot deaths also seem to be occurring more frequently. Tracking (In)Justice documented 704 involving the use of police force deaths in Canada between 2000 and 2022.

The data include deaths from police shootings, as well as deaths involving other types of police weapons (e.g. Tasers) or physical intervention.

These data were collected by using publicly available information from the media and official reports. The data contains information related to the victim, including name, age and race (if available). The location of the death, the police involved and the highest level of force used are also documented.

According to long-standing patterns of inequality, there are significant racial disparities in the overall increase in police-involved fatalities when force is used.

Black and indigenous people represent about 10% of the population in Canada, but account for 27.2% of police-involved shooting deaths when the victim’s race is identified.


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Investigation into whether body-worn cameras are effective for police in Australia

The use of body-worn video cameras by police officers is an emerging area of interest for public policy and police practice. Police cameras can save both cost and time for police, influence law enforcement operational decisions and help prevent problems between citizens and uniformed officers. One objective of law enforcement cameras would be to optimise the collection of police evidence and improve the behaviour of both police and citizens.

The Western Australian Police Force is responsible for policing the 2.5 million square kilometres of this area, which has more than 150 police stations in eight metropolitan and seven regional districts. The programme implemented, as reported by the National Institute of Justice in the United States, ran for a period of 6 months from the beginning of 2022, and consisted of equipping all police officers working on the street with body-worn cameras. The result was more than 1.4 million uploads of evidence of the use of the video cameras. The programme, which relied on the deployment of this enhanced camera technology, was able to transmit live video images to command centres and staff members.

There were no statistically significant differences in restraining orders issued or assaults on police between police camera treatment days and control days (when no officer wore cameras). Treatment days had statistically significant rates of use of force, citizen complaints against police, and criminal charges compared to control days.

The review of this study focused on the collection of evidence and results of police-public behaviour. Outcome data were obtained from numerous operational data sets. A No Effects rating implies that programme implementation is unlikely to yield the intended results and may result in negative outcomes, as was the case.

There was no statistically significant difference between the mean duration of an audio recording of an interview on body-worn video treatment days compared to control days when cameras were not used. Nor were there any in the following cases: rate of assaults on police, criminal code violation notices or in rates of restraining orders issued by police.

Force use rates were higher on body-worn camera treatment days compared to control days. There was one use-of-force incident per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on treatment days and 0.7 incidences per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on control days. This difference was statistically significant and in the opposite direction to that expected.

Citizen complaints against the police were more frequent on camera treatment days compared to control days. There were 0.7 complaints per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on treatment days and 0.4 complaints per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on control days. This difference was statistically significant and in the opposite direction to that expected.

Criminal charge rates were higher on body-worn camera treatment days compared to control days. There were 139.2 criminal charges per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on treatment days versus 125.5 criminal charges per 1,000 computer-aided dispatch jobs on control days. This difference was statistically significant.


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Franco-Israeli criminal network behind 38-million-euro fraud dismantled

The detainees laundered proceeds from criminal activities through a pre-existing money laundering scheme that involved several bank accounts in the European Union, China and Israel.

The joint investigation carried out with the support of Europol has led to the dismantling of a Franco-Israeli criminal network involved in large-scale fraud. The operation, led by France, included the Croatian National Police (Hrvatska Policija) , theCroatian Anti-Money Laundering Office (Ured za sprječavanje pranja novca), the French National Police (Police Nationale), the French Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale), the Budapest Metropolitan Police (Budapesti Rendőr-főkapitányság), the Israel Police (משטרת ישראל), the Portuguese Judicial Police (Policia Judiciaria) and the Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional).

The operational activities took place in the so-called five days of action, carried out between January 2022 and January 2023 in France and Israel, with the following result:

  • 8 house searches in France and Israel.
  • The arrest of the main organiser of the network in Israel.
  • 8 suspects arrested (6 in France and 2 in Israel).
  • The seizure of electronic equipment and vehicles, about 3 million euros from Portuguese bank accounts, 1.1 million euros from Hungarian bank accounts, 600,000 euros from Croatian bank accounts, 400,000 euros from Spanish bank accounts and about 350,000 euros in cryptocurrencies.
  • The total value of the seizures is estimated at around 5.5 million euros.
  • An international investigation into the 38 million euros is being undergone.

The criminal network, made up of French and Israeli nationals, targeted companies located in France. In early December 2021, one of the suspects impersonated the CEO of a company specialising in metallurgy, based in the department of Haute-Marne in north-eastern France. The fraudster asked the company’s accountant to make an urgent and confidential transfer of 300,000 euros to a bank in Hungary. The fraud was discovered a few days later when the accountant, thinking that they were acting on behalf of the CEO of the company, tried to make a transfer of 500,000 euros. The company filed a complaint and investigators later found that the call came from Israel.

The exchange of information and international cooperation facilitated by Europol led to the discovery of accomplices, modus operandi and funds. The criminal investigation in Croatia contributed to the discovery of the real identity of the money mules used by the criminal network. Croatia’s competent authorities blocked more than 600,000 euros in several bank accounts.

Since January 2022, Europol has facilitated the exchange of information and provided specialised analytical support, including financial and cryptocurrency analysis and knowledge. The analysis led to the identification of links between countries to enable the urgent seizure of criminal assets before suspects could launder them. During the days of action, Europol deployed experts to France, Hungary and Israel to cross-check operational information against Europol databases in real time and provide forensic support on the ground.

In 2020, Europol established the European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) in order to increase synergies between economic and financial investigations and to strengthen its capacity to support law enforcement authorities to effectively combat this major criminal threat.


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Implementation of support services for small and rural police organisations in the United States

More than two-thirds (71%) of U.S. police agencies serve rural areas (fewer than 10,000 residents) and 75% employ fewer than 25 officers.

Meanwhile, there is a popular misconception that serious crime only occurs in urban areas, but police officers from small and rural agencies face the same daily challenges as their colleagues in urban departments, from community conflicts to traumatic events such as fatal vehicle accidents or homicides, and the same mental or physical health challenges.

Good mental health is as vital as good physical health in order for officers to serve and protect their communities from crime and violence, regardless of where they are in service. The U.S. Department of Justice has published a guide to implementing support services to small and rural police organisations.

Despite the welfare needs of rural police officers, many of these areas are like sanitary deserts, where the population-to-provider ratio for mental health care can be as high as 30,000 to 1. Compared to their urban counterparts, rural residents participate in mental health services at a much lower rate.

Small police departments often have limited staff and resources, inadequate emergency and community services, and very limited access to technology or equipment. Socioeconomic, geographical and workforce factors are significant barriers to access to health care in rural communities.

Regardless of the location or size of a law enforcement agency, the adoption of safety and welfare programmes is vital to ensuring the health of officers who put themselves in harm’s way to protect their communities.

Peer support programmes can be a vital mental health resource for small and rural agencies. However, the same geography and demographic factors that reduce access to other types of mental health support can also be complicated.

Peer support services are a valuable tool for promoting mental well-being in high stress jobs. It can be the way to tap into strengths and relationships between specially trained peers in a non-clinical setting. Faced with a personal crisis, an employee may feel more comfortable initially seeking support from a colleague who understands the context and has experienced the same problems, rather than a mental health professional.

Peer support can therefore be an important first step in an officer welfare strategy. This resource would describe considerations and recommended action steps for rural and small police seeking to establish and maintain peer support services.

These different considerations can be adjusted to suit the unique goals of each agency according to its starting point.


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Canadian police officers succeed in making body-worn and in-car video systems permanent

As reported by the Canadian website City news everywhere, the Waterloo Regional Police Service South Division launched a large-scale pilot project to install body-worn and in-car video systems a few months ago, as part of an overall modernisation project for the institution.

The pilot project, developed between June 2021 and October 2022 and which deployed body-worn video systems for police officers and inside cars, will now become a permanent fixture following its approval at a police services board meeting last week. The project also includes a mobile phone deployment strategy and a digital evidence management system.

Through members of the police service, trained for the occasion, the purpose of the pilot scheme was to determine the feasibility and capability of the technology to capture evidence while balancing the privacy rights of citizens.

Key performance indicators for the pilot plan focused on both police member and community perceptions, administrative workload, and the impacts of charges and convictions.

The overall aims included exploration of improved police accountability, accurate representation of police interactions with the public, improved public and officer safety, a strengthened commitment to bias-free service delivery, and improved evidence for investigative, judicial, and oversight purposes.

The pilot project also included a consultation with the community and members of the police service through a webinar, a general survey and a direct invitation to the cultural communities in the region.

Police members of various positions felt that there is clear support for promoting a definitive programme to install cameras for police service. The community also felt that this was a good financial investment, that this will improve transparency and that the programme will reinforce the commitment to bias-free policing. And in this way, technology will help create a foundation of trust building for the police with the community.

It was also felt that it will improve transparency with the community, which will help protect them with public complaints and provide evidence for the courts.

Finally, it was decided to make the pilot scheme permanent, as the vast majority of respondents felt that video technology is highly valued as an investment tool to contribute to a transparent, effective and professional policing community.


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International police cooperation measures against cybercrime

It is well known to law enforcement that DDoS services – distributed denial of service – have considerably lowered the barrier to entry into cybercrime. For a fee as low as about €10, any unskilled person can launch DDoS attacks at the click of a button, taking entire websites and networks down.

The damage that can be inflicted on victims can be significant, even crippling businesses economically and depriving people of essential services provided by various entities such as banks, police forces or government administrations.

Emboldened by a perceived anonymity, many young technology enthusiasts engage in this seemingly low-level crime, unaware of the consequences that such online activities can entail. For example, law enforcement agencies are working intensively against DDoS services. And, in this regard, all levels of users are on law enforcement’s radar, whether it’s a gamer ripping the competition from a video game or a high-level hacker conducting DDoS attacks against commercial targets for financial gain.

The effects that a criminal investigation can have on the lives of these DDoS users can be very serious, given the prison sentences that are contemplated in some countries.

In this vein, police forces from the United States, the United Kingdom, Poland and Germany developed an operation known as Power off against this type of cyber-attacks that can paralyse the Internet.

This international operation aimed at combating DDoS service providers, designed to allow users to launch a parallel distributed denial of service against critical online infrastructures, has enabled about fifty of the world’s largest illegal IT service providers to be disabled. One of these neutralised services had been used to commit more than 30 million attacks.

As part of this action, seven administrators have so far been arrested between the United States and the United Kingdom, with further action planned against users of these illegal services.

International police cooperation was critical to the success of this operation, as the administrators, users, critical infrastructure and victims were dispersed around the world. Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre coordinated activities in Europe through its Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT).

This international operation follows previous editions of Power Off operations that targeted administrators and users of the DDoS marketplace.


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