On the road with police team disrupting serious and organised crime
- Credit: Victoria Pertusa
A mobile team of police officers, dedicated to disrupting serious and organised crime, have demonstrated their front-foot approach to guarding Suffolk’s road network.
Since being launched last May, the county's three Operation Sentinel units have stopped more than 1,000 vehicles and more than 200 arrests for offences including drug dealing, handling stolen goods and weapons possession.
The three teams, based in the South (established last May), East and West areas (established last September), are each made up of one sergeant and six constables, and have been funded by the police and crime commissioner's (PCC) decision to raise the council tax precept.
We joined the South team to see how officers are using the widest range of available proactive policing tactics, as well as utilising Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) to identify and intercept criminals, while improving public confidence through visibility.
Sgt Mike Moon said his team's focus was not on traffic enforcement, but to disrupt drug dealing, human trafficking and exploitation, recidivist criminals and even sex offenders using the road network.
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"Every day, we've got a team on duty in the county, and we've been quite successful so far, seizing significant quantities of drugs.
"We utilise ANPR, but that's not the sum total of what we're about. We've got instinctive, proactive officers, running about 30 stop-searches a month, with proper grounds to do so. These aren't arbitrary stops - they're focused.
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"We strive to create a gold standard quality of evidential product, which maximises our chance of conviction in the courts.
"These officers have been chosen for their ability. Policing isn't a simple business these days. It's highly complex and demanding.
"A seemingly simple vehicle stop could lead to two or three weeks' investigation for an individual."
Within about half-an-hour of joining PCs Tim Barrell and John Wood on the road, a passenger in a white Ford Transit had been arrested off Sproughton Road on suspicion of breaching a court order imposed in Leeds.
Soon afterwards, PCs Mina Fernandez and Dan Newson had seized a Citroën Xsara being driven by 26-year-old Ipswich man without a licence or insurance.
Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore said: "We were confident that the Sentinel team, supported by appropriate technology, would pay dividends and results so far show the constabulary is definitely on the front-foot when it comes to cracking down on organised criminal activity.
"We need to remember, Suffolk is one of the safest counties in the country, but that's not to say there aren't challenges ahead and that is why, last year, I made the decision to increase the policing element of the council tax by the maximum possible.
"Last year's policing precept has enabled the chief constable to increase the police establishment to form these proactive Sentinel teams to help fight organised crime right across the county.
"Operation Sentinel provides the extra officers on our roads that we need. It won't change everything but this is a major step-change in the fight against crime in our communities and I welcome this pre-emptive approach."