Detective Chief Superintendent Mick Gallagher said there were also “hundreds and hundreds” of smaller street gangs. The crime groups were “destabilising communities” with a “direct correlation” between their activities and the stabbings and shootings taking place in some of London’s more impoverished districts.
Mr Gallagher, who leads the Met’s serious and organised crime command, also suggested that the extremes of poverty and wealth in London could be helping to drive offending, with violent robbers targeting shops and individuals to steal expensive jewellery.
His comments came as the Met celebrated the 100th anniversary of its famed Flying Squad.
The unit, which began in 1918 with 12 officers selected for their expertise in catching thieves, has secured the convictions of many hundreds of serious criminals.
Its successes include foiling the Millennium Dome diamond exhibition plot of 2000 and bringing to justice the gang that robbed the Brink’s-Mat security depot in 1983.
Mr Gallagher said that the Flying Squad remained “very busy” and was responsible for pursuing “some of the most serious, violent, and organised criminals operating across London”, tackling other forms of organised crime in addition to armed robberies and smash-and-grab raids.
His most disturbing comments, however, were about the continuing threat posed by organised crime in London as he gave a new insight into the number of gangs operating in the capital. “If you are talking about street gangs it [the number] runs to hundreds and hundreds, but if we are talking about organisations operating internationally that have a footprint in London, we are probably talking in the region of a couple of dozen serious players,” Mr Gallagher told the Standard.
“That’s the reason I have an organised crime command, the reason we have units like the Flying Squad to deal with this, and they are all kept very busy.
“Because of the nature of London you will regularly come across people who come from other countries, but a lot of them are domiciled here.”
Mr Gallagher said tip-offs from informants could often play a key role in bringing crime gangs to justice , particularly as encryption and other technological obstacles made it harder to trap them in other ways.
He said this meant that public help was vital, and appealed to Londoners to come forward with information.
He added: “I am full of praise for members of the public who assist on a daily basis. We absolutely rely on information. We are very, very careful about information that is provided to us.”
Meanwhile, police efforts to tackle organised crime were “relentless” because of the harm it caused. “The damage permeates all the way down. There is a strong correlation to some of the violence that we see played out on the streets to serious and organised crime further up the food chain. So it absolutely destabilises communities.”