POLICE plan to create a ‘ring of steel’ around Portsmouth in a crackdown on organised crime flooding into the city.
For a month officers will lie in wait and scan the licence plate of vehicles coming in and out of Portsmouth as well as city centre car parks.
During the operation they will be using specialist equipment which can instantly check if the vehicle – or driver – is linked to crime.
It comes as latest figures reveal there were 1,744 shoplifting offences reported in the city between April and October last year.
Sergeant Rob Sutton said: ‘We are hoping to pick up organised crime groups’ vehicles that are either stolen or used in crime.
‘It will be like a ring of steel. If something comes up on our system like a stolen car or a car known for organised crime it will flag it up to us and we can respond accordingly.’
It is hoped the operation will take place this summer, but officers will stay tight lipped about the date and the locations.
Sgt Sutton believes eastern European gangs from other parts of the UK are deliberately targeting Portsmouth.
‘We had one Romanian guy who came in and stole £115 of clothing from H&M [in Commercial Road]. He had basically got a bag and the inside of it was completely foil lined,’ he said.
‘All of the security tags were on the clothing but it meant he could walk straight out of the door without setting the alarms off. He was part of a gang that came in to the city.
‘At the moment we don’t know who’s coming in and going out. We know a lot of organised crime groups are coming in to the city centre.
‘We’ve seen an increase in Polish, Romanian and other eastern European groups from outside Hampshire.
‘They will just hit the area for a couple of hours and then go – we’re talking about crimes like shoplifting and handbag snatches.
‘With the Hindhead tunnel opening it will soon be much quicker for people to get down here as well.’
During the operation police will be using called Automatic number plate recognition equipment.
This means as well as catching shoplifting gangs, they will also be able to trace rogue drivers, such as those without insurance or an MOT.
But police say law abiding drivers have nothing to fear.
Aoife Allen, from human rights campaign group Liberty, said: ‘There is always the potential to target or persecute certain groups. But depending on how the information is stored and used, it could be something that helps prevent crime.’
Rhoda Joseph, centre manager at the Cascades in Portsmouth, praised the planned operation, adding: ‘Gangs are organised and they move around the country. Rather than be chasing our tail all the time it make a lot of sense to use police time more effectively and be proactive in tackling the problem this way.’