PRESSURE is mounting on gangs and crime families in Coventry following the success of West Midlands Police’s latest operation.
Codenamed ‘Operation Blue Steel’, the initiative seeks to work in partnership with the local authority, charities, organisations and communities to stamp out organised crime across the the city.
Launched last year, the operation has already proved successful in jailing a serial shop robbery gang for a total of 24 years; imprisoning drug dealer Tavaseen Iqbal, who hid a loaded shotgun in the garden of his Foleshill home, for six years; and carrying out a number of drug and weapons warrants at addresses linked to crooks.
Speaking to Observer news editor Lauren Clarke, Detective Chief Inspector Warren Little, and Superintendent Mandy Platt, said the initiative is a multi-pronged attack on organised criminality in the city – not only pursuing criminals, but working alongside local people and organisations from preventing others from joining a life of crime.
Det Ch Insp Little said it rarely plays out like it does in the movies – with police officers carrying out a warrant and being presented with cash, guns and drugs.
He added: “It’s about working alongside communities, the licencing department, environmental health to find any opportunity to prosecute these people.
“When we can’t get them for the substantive offence we’ve been very successful in taking people’s cars off them, getting them disqualified, or taking houses where we know criminality is being conducted.”
But Supt Platt said Operation Blue Steel is about more than just the arrests.
“We want to prevent young people particularly from getting into criminality and the continuum of anti-social behaviour and that then escalating up to gangs on the street or organised crime,” she added.
Through neighbourhood policing teams meeting with key members of communities, to officers carrying informal work in churches, youth groups and schools, Operation Blue Steel hopes to build trust between residents and police – in turn encouraging people to come forward with information.
Supt Platt said: “Often organised criminals do not cause an issue in the road they live in, but they cause wider problems and harm throughout the city.
“But they stand out because they are living in properties or they have cars which do not match their income, which annoys the communities around them.
“A lot of the prevent work is about building up trust in communities as we rely heavily on them to provide us with intelligence and information on the criminality they are living, seeing and experiencing.”
But with much organised crime being carried out within families, Supt Platt added a key problem facing officers was breaking those generational loyalties.
Comparing the issue to family members reporting on each other in relation to terrorism, Det Ch Insp Little said officers had to be more creative when dealing with organised criminality.
He explained: “Even though older family members may be locked up in prison, there’s often a respect for the life they lead or how they got there.
“So we need to find ways to intervene early in a child’s life to break that down and show it’s not a viable lifestyle.”
After finding Coventry’s ‘Most Wanted’ Travis Pitter hiding in a Henley Road attic in October last year, Det Ch Insp Little said he hoped the increasingly visible nature of Operation Blue Steel inspired others to come forward with information.
He added: “Like any city, we recognise that in Coventry there are issues around organised crime with drug and firearms and Operation Blue Steel is our response to that.
“When we execute warrants on properties in the early morning, the road is blocked off and you see a firearms or drugs operation we’re doing it on the back of community efforts to try and make everyone’s lives easier.
“Any extra information you’re then able to tell us – by any means – helps Operation Blue Steel and helps keep Coventry people safe.”