Ipswich at ‘crossroads’ for fighting drugs, gangs and violence

Tim Passmore (foreground) and Gareth Wilson (background) talk to the public in Ipswich town centre

Tim Passmore (foreground) and Gareth Wilson (background) talk to the public in Ipswich town centre Picture: SUFFOLK PCC - Credit: Suffolk PCC

Ipswich today stands at a “crossroads” as police fight back against violence and drug crime.

Police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said the town’s reputation and future generations would be let down by an idle response to its “biggest threat”.

Drugs, gangs and violence were the most common concerns voiced during a public engagement event in Ipswich, which police want to become a “hostile environment” to organised criminals.

Mr Passmore said enforcement, punishment and early intervention were key to tackling organised crime.

Joined by the chief constable at Giles Circus for the fifth of seven public events over two weeks, Mr Passmore said: “Drugs, gangs and violent crime are the main thing people are concerned about. They’re our biggest threat.

“It can lead to the reputational damage of an area and has an effect on younger generations.

“We have to be careful not to talk the place down, but there must also be recognition that we’re at a crossroads.

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“We need aggressive enforcement in the short-term – and have been doing so with our urban street gang unit – and we need to make sure punishments act as a deterrent. We want to become a hostile environment.”

A stabbing in Ipswich on Saturday was the sixth knife attack to take place across the county in 10 weeks.

Three people were released under investigation for attempted murder in Grebe Close, while a fourth was released under investigation for GBH in connection with an earlier incident in Bucklesham.

Ipswich police have made 55 arrests relating to the use or supply of class A drugs and money laundering this year.

Officers have stopped more than 1,100 heroin or crack cocaine deals, seized £9,000 of unprepared drugs and more than £5,000 in cash, and taken away weapons carried by dealers.

Meanwhile, Operation Velocity was set up to tackle crack cocaine and heroin supply networks – or ‘county lines’ – originating in city locations with established markets in rural towns, utilising mobile phones to facilitate deals, while exploiting young and vulnerable people.

At the same time, the force has the highest case load per officer in the country – 150 per year – but receives one of the lowest funding settlements from the Home Office.

Mr Passmore, who added 6.8% to the constabulary’s share of the council tax precept for the coming financial year, said: “We have received a lot of support from people about the funding formula.

“People realise the pressure of a high work load and not getting a proper deal from the government.

“We’re preparing an application for the Early Intervention Youth Fund (up to £700,000 over two years, from a £22m pot) and believe that could make a real difference to two or three areas.

“The message we want to get across about county lines is that people are coming here from organised crime groups in metropolitan areas – often picking on the vulnerable.

“This is about choice, priorities and balancing resources.

“It involves the whole of society – schools, parents, the local private and charity sector.

“Treating it as a public health issue is critical.”

Officer strength within the Suffolk Constabulary workforce was 1078 by May – excluding those on career breaks or secondments.

The new Suffolk Local Policing Model was introduced in 2015/2016 to adapt to changing demand – from ‘traditional’ crime to increased focus on vulnerability related issues – and to reduce expenditure by removing posts, reducing police front counters and amending PCSO working hours.

In July, police announced a proposed restructure, which would see more than 100 officers move into safer neighbourhood teams (SNTs) to deal with increasing demand, but mean reducing PCSOs from 81 to 48 full-time equivalent posts.

A month earlier, nine new Community Engagement Officers (CEOs) began work with SNTs.

Officer numbers and visibility were among subjects addressed by Chief Constable Gareth Wilson at Wednesday’s engagement event.

He said: “This is about understanding the issues of a broad range of people who live or work in Ipswich.

“It’s our chance to explain some of the things being done – like the new 101 system and technology being used by our staff.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on the new policing model.

“We’re making sure our officers are more visible, but also in the right place at the right time.

“There’s good work going on – and I’m pleased to have already heard positive feedback about our community engagement officer.

Mr Passmore and the chief constable will be meeting the public from 11.30am-1.30pm in Woodbridge’s Thoroughfare on Thursday and Haverhill’s Market Hill on Friday.