Ministers will beef up units fighting organised crime with an extra 300 officers in the next year.
However, Boris Johnson’s flagship Beating Crime Plan has highlighted a lack of information on national gangs who buy and sell drugs between cities – and those selling them to street dealers.
Experts say police often arrest street-level dealers while National Crime Agency (NCA) and Border
Force operations snare criminals as they import the drugs.
But they say detectives do not know enough about mid-market operators or their methods.
This allows organised crime gangs (OCGs) to easily replace those arrested or killed as the operation is largely untouched.
A review by Professor Dame Carol Black found Albanian gangs dominate the cocaine market until it is sold at street level.
The heroin trade is more fractured, with Pakistani and Turkish groups the main importers and distributors.
But in the Northwest, British gangs “remain dominant” in bulk importation and wholesale sup- ply. British criminals rule over the cannabis trade, but Albanian and Vietnamese groups also have a significant presence.
Albanian OCGs are thought to reinvest income from cannabis farms in the more lucrative, but riskier, cocaine trade, which makes them more resilient to actions like police operations.
Academic Rick Muir, who is leading the first big strategic review of British policing in decades, said: “What they mean is that they just don’t know enough about who the operators are in the middle of the market and their modus operandi.
“This, I suspect, is because the most obvious points at which they can intercept activity is either at the border, the importers, or on the street – the junior street retailers.” Mr Muir said middlelevel operatives were in less risky positions and not as likely to be arrested, “so they know less about them”. He added: “You can keep arresting street drug dealers while the core of these OCGs remain relatively untouched, giving them every reason and plenty of opportunity to carry on in business.”
Despite prices remaining low, the purity of heroin – the majority of which is sourced from Afghanistan – is increasing. Cocaine consumption has risen by at least 290 percent since 2011 and the NCA has warned the UK drug market is continuing to “evolve and grow”.
World cocaine production is about 1,723 tons. The majority comes from Colombia.
The Beating Crime Plan called drugs a “scourge” on society and pledged to hit supply and demand.
The aim is to come down harder on dealers, dismantle county lines gangs, hammer home that recreational use is not harmless and support drug and alcohol addicts.
The Daily Express has revealed the Home Office wants police to issue fewer cautions for possession and more fines, or order users to attend drug awareness courses.
Ministers want to cut demand for drugs like cannabis and cocaine which fuel murders, human trafficking and slavery globally.
The National Crime Agency said: “In the last year, NCA activity resulted in the seizure of more than 149 tons of drugs, and we continue to work with policing, government and international partners to pursue those behind the illegal drugs trade.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council declined to comment on intelligence gap claims. Its chairman Martin Hewitt said: “The Beating Crime Plan contains many areas where policing has had prior engagement with the Government…we will now be reviewing it carefully to understand how we deliver it operationally.”