Merseyside police took cash and assets worth millions out of the hands of criminals last year, figures show.
To prevent people reaping the benefits of a criminal lifestyle, courts can use sentencing powers to hand down confiscation orders, while authorities can also use civil powers to deprive offenders of the proceeds of crime.
Home Office figures show Merseyside Police collected proceeds of crime worth around £3.4 million in 2020-21.
Of this, £908,400 was obtained through confiscation orders, with officers deploying civil powers to take another around £0.9 million in cash and assets away from offenders.
The total collected by the force under the Proceeds of Crime Act was down from around £4 million the year before – a 13% drop.
Police forces in England and Wales collected around £96 million in 2020-21, down from £101 million the previous year.
The use of civil powers to seize cash and assets increased while there was a sharp drop in the amount paid via confiscation orders.
The overall amount collected by police and other authorities in confiscation order receipts was at its lowest level in six years, with increased amounts seized via forfeitures reflecting a widespread shift from the use of criminal to civil powers.
Experts say significant disruption to the criminal justice system due to the coronavirus pandemic also contributed to the national drop.
Jury trials were halted and many magistrates' courts closed due to pandemic restrictions, leading to a reduction in the number of orders made.
Courts also prioritised trials for the most serious offences, meaning fewer acquisitive crime cases were heard last year.
‘Police forces are suffering in every region’
Jo Sidhu QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said existing problems within the criminal justice system had been worsened by the pandemic, adding: "Cuts to police numbers has meant fewer reported offences are properly investigated.
"Fewer prosecutions reach the courts meaning necessarily fewer convictions from which to pursue recovery proceedings – these in turn require local police forces to investigate and recover assets and forces are suffering in every region from shortages to both people and skills."
Adrian Foster, of the Crown Prosecution Service's proceeds of crime division, said more than £565 million had been recovered via CPS obtained confiscation orders in five years, with £124 million returned to victims of crime in compensation payments.
He added: “The closure of courts and suspension of auctions and house sales during the height of the pandemic has severely impacted on the amount paid by individuals towards their confiscation orders this year.
“But as courts recover, we are determined to ensure criminals do not benefit from their ill-gotten gains.”
£1.3 billion recovered from criminals
A Home Office spokesperson said more than £1.3 billion had been recovered from criminals since 2015 and that work was underway to improve operational responses to asset recovery and to ensure the Government delivers on its pledge to put 20,000 additional police officers on the streets by 2023.
The spokesperson added: “Criminals should not be able to profit from their illegal activities and that is why we are cracking down on them hard through our world-leading legislation and strengthened law enforcement response.
"We are determined to ensure police have the resources they need to keep the public safe."