Police admit 50 criminal gangs operate in South Yorkshire on a daily basis

Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, revealed an issue with criminal gangs grooming and recruiting children
Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, revealed an issue with criminal gangs grooming and recruiting children

Fifty criminal gangs - many dealing drugs and trading guns - operate in South Yorkshire on a daily basis, it has been revealed.

South Yorkshire Police said the gangs, known as 'organised crime groups, are a 'priority' for the force, with an emphasis on 'disrupting and dismantling' the networks at all levels.

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Detective Superintendent Chris Singleton, who oversees the police response to criminal gangs, said law enforcement and prosecution are key strands in the force policy but working with other agencies to take advantage of all legislation available is also important.

"We identify and map organised crime groups, their level of threat is assessed at a regional level and then we make it our business to target those involved to disrupt their activity - often on a daily basis," he said.

"Be assured that on any one day there will be covert work being carried out, high visibility policing operations and we will be working with local authorities, housing providers and other key partner agencies to disrupt every aspect of gang members' lives. The aim is consistent and continual disruption to make it as difficult as possible for OCG members to operate.

"The warning is that it is only a matter of time before we make ourselves known to you."

Det Supt Singleton said his team monitors as many as 50 gangs a day, describing some as 'dangerous,' with members having access to weapons and prepared to use violence.

"The main reason for OCGs existing is money, with drugs, firearms and people among the commodities traded," he said.

"And they have no hesitation in using violence to make people comply with their demands or to maintain their turf.

"The danger they pose and the impact they have on communities mean they are a top priority for the force. We are also committed to reducing the spread of these OCGs as they move out of saturated areas and into new communities to extend their reach and become embedded elsewhere."

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South Yorkshire Police's 'disruption manual' on all the techniques its officers use to target gang members has now been adopted by other forces across the country.

"We have had some fantastic successes and are at the forefront of this approach to disrupting and dismantling gangs from the grassroots up, but the battle is preventing others moving in and filling the void when members are in prison," he said.

"It does feel like an ever evolving cycle at times but we are seeing successes and are working with thousands of children in schools every year to try to show them the reality of what risks gang members face in the hope that they do not chose that path.

"They may be attracted to the glamour they associate with gangs, the money and the sense of belonging but the reality is that they will be exploited, they will be the ones taking the risks while those at the top don't get their hands dirty and they will be the ones who end up in prison or exposed to harm”

Last month, South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, raised concerns about children being groomed by criminal gangs in South Yorkshire - with youngsters recruited to deal drugs and stash weapons.

Dr Billings called for the police, local authorities, schools and youth services to work together to stop children being groomed.

He said: "Gang membership comes at a price. The price is that you sell drugs and join in turf wars. You carry or hide weapons for older members.

"There's a process of grooming going on and all of us - police, schools, local authorities and partners - need to be aware of it.

"It's low level here at the moment and small numbers involved but it could develop so we need an awareness that it will be happening and all agencies who work with young people need to know about it and act together."

He said he does not want a similar scenario to the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham, where those in authority failed to act and 1,400 vulnerable children were preyed upon and abused by men of predominantly Pakistani heritage.

To pass on information about those involved in criminals gangs, call South Yorkshire Police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.