THE undercover police who risked their personal safety to embed themselves in Sheffield’s criminal underworld and take 83 drug dealers of the city streets have been commended by Sheffield’s top judge.
Eleven ‘test purchase officers’ were praised by Judge Alan Goldsack QC as he jailed the final defendants convicted as part of Operation Mach.
Commending the police, the judge said: “I want to mention especially the officers who went undercover.
“For many months they were placing themselves in dangerous situations to try to discover the identities of those responsible for dealing the drugs.
“Without their efforts in particular, such operations can not succeed. They deserve the thanks of the local community.”
Months of planning took place before the arrest phase of the multi-agency operation.
From the outset, the police worked closely with the Crown Prosecution Service’s complex case unit lawyers to ensure they had enough evidence to secure successful prosecutions.
They also worked with Sheffield Council’s youth services to disband gangs and encourage young people to take part in ‘meaningful activities’.
CPS Senior Crown Prosecutor, David Steer said: “We offered South Yorkshire Police advice about the type of evidence required. The strongest possible case was built against each individual.
“The drug dealing took place around primary schools in broad daylight where children played.
“Those involved dealt heroin and crack cocaine impacting heavily on the local community and raising the fear of crime.
“The operation has been a tremendous success and has led to a better quality of life for local communities and, in the main, custodial sentences for those responsible.
“It has taken out a whole tranche of street dealing.”
Supt Peter Norman said he attended community meetings at which residents expressed alarm at the rising levels of violent incidents among young men.
He said the supply of Class A drugs and gang-related activity had led to murders and serious injuries being inflicted on residential streets and in city nightclubs by men who armed themselves with guns and knives.
DI Andy Capes from SYP’s major incident team said: “Traditional policing techniques such as youth work and stop searches were failing.
“These dealers were stashing drugs and knives around educational establishments - in school bushes, that kind of thing.
“We tried all the normal techniques and it just didn’t work. Then the undercover test purchase officers started work and it was like flies around a piece of meat.
“It allowed us to move into circles that we didn’t have access to previously.”
The TPOs used designer clothes to reel in their prey, exchanging the items for heroin and crack cocaine.
In January, after months gathering evidence, police smashed their way into dozens of homes across Sheffield in a week-long series of coordinated dawn raids.
Officers also shut down the Empire Bar in the city centre.
In May, 27 dealers were jailed for 67 years.
Supt Norman said such was the dealers’ contempt for the police, officers were spat on as the defendants sat in the dock, waiting to hear their fate.
Today Supt Norman said: “We want to thank the local communities who had the courage at public and private meetings to identify their concerns to us.
“From a policing perspective the operation has been very successful. The streets of South Yorkshire are definitely a safer place to be.
“Since the arrest phase of Operation Mach, we haven’t had any gang-on-gang violence.
Judge Alan Goldsack QC said: “No one should be complacent about the problems drugs still cause.”