PSNI investigating three Eastern European drug gangs in Northern Ireland
Three Eastern European crime gangs are currently under investigation for the importation and supply of drugs in Northern Ireland, the Chief Constable has revealed.
George Hamilton said that the deployment of the National Crime Agency (NCA) in Northern Ireland has reinforced the PSNl's ability to actively target international organised crime.
While there is evidence of European drugs cartels targeting the province, Mr Hamilton said the majority of organised crime gangs linked to drugs are "of local origin".
Over the past year there have been 4,000 seizures of drugs like cannabis, cocaine, heroin and legal highs.
Earlier this week eight men and a woman aged between 22 and 52 were arrested as part of an operation against the supply of heroin in the Portadown area.
And last week, police seized an estimated £4,000 worth of heroin as part of an investigation into the supply of drugs that led to two men being arrested near Hillsborough.
The packages of heroin recovered were the size of table tennis balls and wrapped in small plastic bags.
In response to a question from Policing Board member Jonathan Craig, Mr Hamilton said there has been no significant change detected in the overall scale of drug availability in Northern Ireland. He said that increases in drug seizures and offences are often as a result of increased enforcement activity, as opposed to any change in the availability of controlled drugs.
"Whilst there are currently three Eastern European crime gangs under investigation for drug importation and supply, the majority of Organised Crime Gangs linked to drugs are of local origin, as are the majority of persons detected for drug supply and possession offences," said Mr Hamilton (left).
He added that the deployment of the National Crime Agency (NCA) in Northern Ireland has assisted in the targeting of international crime gangs.
"The NCA provides support to the PSNl's most complex investigations, which often have an international element.
"This assistance takes many forms, including gaining access to international surveillance teams, providing dedicated intelligence and operational assets and delivering an effective response across national and international boundaries," the PSNI boss said.
He added: "At times of reduced budget and resources, this allows PSNI to significantly flex its operational capacity abroad."
The DUP's Jonathan Craig said he was concerned by the Chief Constable's revelations that European drugs gangs were operating the province.
"Security checks of those travelling within the European Union are very poor, if not non-existent. Unfortunately these crime gangs can migrate anywhere in the EU," he said.
The PSNI expects an increase in drug seizures due to Operation Torus, a policing initiative which deals with the issue of street level drug dealing across Northern Ireland.