POLICE are bringing a dedicated operation to the Portsmouth area to tackle violent dealers – many of whom are travelling from London to peddle illegal drugs.
In some cases, dealers looking to set up shop in the area are taking over vulnerable people’s homes to expand their criminal empire.
In the past year alone, Hampshire police has brought to justice a raft of drug gangs from London which were using the city to deal in.
Now officers are stepping up their efforts in a bid to address the problem, keep communities safe and encourage more people to come forward.
As reported, an extra £1.77m is being ploughed into Hampshire police’s Operation Fortress as the bid to crack down on drug-related violence spreads force-wide
The cash has been awarded by Hampshire police and crime commissioner Simon Hayes to build on the project, which was launched with a £2m budget in Southampton in 2012.
Detective Superintendent Kath Barnes is leading Operation Fortress.
She said: ‘The campaign aims to crack down on drug-related violent crime and find a long-term solution to the harm caused by illegal drugs by reducing their supply, cutting the demand for drugs and rebuilding communities.
‘It’s common in the sense that what we find is those people who are involved in drug trafficking enterprises will look, like any person, to expand their enterprise and look for places to set up.
‘We definitely see London as an area where people move into the communities in Hampshire.
‘Portsmouth is actually a very different city from Southampton, albeit there are some similarities in what we see, which is gang members from London coming up to try to set up a branch.
‘In Portsmouth it tends to show more quickly.
‘Because of the demographics of the area a lot of people tend to report it, therefore positive police action can be taken quite quickly, whereas what tends to happen in Southampton is it can get hold before it is noticed, before it’s reported.’
She adds: ‘All the local campaign team in Portsmouth have been successful in identifying these problems quickly and putting the positive police action in immediately.’
Operation Fortress was launched following a series of ‘trigger incidents’ in Southampton including serious stabbings and a shooting.
Det Supt Barnes says: ‘What we did was take the government’s drugs strategy as was, which was restrict supply, reduce demand and rebuild communities.
‘If we do all those three things at the same time, our outcomes are likely to be better because the police can kick in doors every day of the week and catch people who are supplying drugs.
‘But if you are not then reducing the demand for those drugs, and you are not rebuilding community confidence at the same time, then your outcomes will be short term.’
The force had also worked to help develop an education package for schools among other measures.
‘We are finding a lot more younger people are resorting to using psychotic substances,’ said Det Supt Barnes.
‘Therefore if you are really going to start reducing demand you have got to get your education in at the right time and place to the right individuals.
‘Rather than saying “drugs are bad for you, don’t take them, by the way you could get into trouble”, we have turned our education much more into giving people information that will allow them to make more informed choices, therefore increasing the resilience of young people to avoid putting them in risky situations.
‘It’s about understanding our local policing area and policing our accordingly.’
Det Supt Barnes is now appealing to people to report any concerns they have about possible drug-related crime in their area.
She says: ‘A massive part of it is people looking out for each other and reporting those concerns that they have, and feeling confident that they can report those concerns confidentially.’
Contact Hampshire police on 101 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in a non-emergency situation.
Dial 999 if a crime is in progress.
Alternatively call the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555111.