“Darnall, Manor, Arbourthorne, Woodthorpe, Meersbrook, Gleadless … they are in almost every community,” said Detective Inspector Andy Shields, who is in charge of police efforts in Sheffield to identify, disrupt and dismantle OCGs.
Operation Fortify was set up in 2017/18 in Sheffield to provide a police and partnership response to organised crime, including drug supply. Operation Fortify teams now operate across the county.
Dozens of raids were carried out in Sheffield last week in the culmination of a six month operation around gangs responsible for turf wars in the city, with police chiefs admitting that most shootings involve warring OCGs and are linked to drugs and territory.
Operation Fortify involves police officers working with partner agencies, including Sheffield City Council and schools, to identify gangs, take enforcement action and to prevent other criminals moving in to replace those dismantled by the authorities.
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Fortify teams also work to identify young and vulnerable people at risk of becoming recruited by gangs to work on so-called 'county lines' - where gangs send members into new areas to expand their drug supply networks to boost profits.
DI Shields said: “The police are generally very good at pursuing criminals - executing search warrants and other operations for example, but Fortify is about having a lasting and meaningful impact. It has to be sustainable and this is why the 'clear, hold and build' strategy is so important.
“If we identify, disrupt and dismantle an OCG we have to be careful not to leave a vacuum. If we take drug dealers off the streets we have to have a plan in place to stop them coming back or others moving in to fill the void, which is where our multi-agency approach comes in.
“To tackle organised crime you need a 360 degree approach to the problem, so for each OCG we identify, a bespoke plan is put in place around it. No two gangs are the same and there is not one universal solution.”
Gang activity is linked to violence, with gang members being prepared to use firearms and other weapons against rivals over territory and the cash to be made from drugs.
Officers recently seized £100,000 in Sheffield in two house searches alone.
“Gangs are operating business models - they have a market place and there is a demand for a product, so there is money to be made,” DI Shields said.
“If the marketplace becomes saturated, they will look for other areas where there is demand, which is where county lines come into play.”
He said young people often become embroiled with gangs after being 'seduced by the lifestyle'.
“They find the lifestyle and the money attractive. But it is very dangerous,” DI Shields warned.
He described how officers recently dealt with a teenager who was found in a drug den in the south of England and 'safeguarded’ in another part of the country, where his criminal activity continued and he ended up shooting somebody.
DI Shields, who has been an officer for 29 years, said Fortify officers want to stop the next generation of gangs getting a foothold by tackling those already operating, identifying possible future gang members and doing all they can to prevent them from becoming embroiled in criminality
“Kicking in doors is good and achieves something, communities see that you are doing something, but it has to be sustainable and it is better to prevent gangs from forming in the first place,” he said.
He urged communities to trust that South Yorkshire Police and partners are achieving results.
“We want strong, confident communities who feel that they can talk to us to trust that we will take action and to protect them,” he said.
“Once you gain that trust, you get the intelligence which helps you detect more crimes.
“We need to discourage gang membership to create safer communities.”
He explained how some residents live in fear in their own communities because of the gangs and the violent conflicts that accompany them.
He said how a man was recently suffered life changing injuries when he was attacked with a machete in Broomhall 'for dealing in the wrong area'.
“We would love to be able to eradicate gangs completely but while there is demand for drugs, there will be supply because there is too much money to be made, but what we can do is 'design out crime' for example by providing better CCTV, security and street lighting in communities as a deterrent and to make people feel safer,” he said.
“We can also look at what is being done to reduce that demand.”
In a warning to gangs, DI Shields said: “We will get you. If you are involved, we will come for you.”