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Operation Moonshot: How police are disrupting organised crime on our borders

PUBLISHED: 10:40 21 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:03 21 May 2018

Police officers carry out ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) checks. Picture: Archant library.

Police officers carry out ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) checks. Picture: Archant library.

Archant © 2006

It is a team of just one sergeant and eight police constables.

Weapons recovered as part of Operation Moonshot. Photo: Norfolk ConstabularyWeapons recovered as part of Operation Moonshot. Photo: Norfolk Constabulary

But in two years they have made 501 arrests, seized 689 vehicles and returned more than £1m worth of high-value items to victims.

Operation Moonshot was launched in west Norfolk in April 2016 as a six-month pilot scheme under Norfolk Constabulary’s 2020 restructuring review.

But it has since proved to be so successful in disrupting organised crime that there are now plans to expand it.

The operation involves officers using a combination of technology and intelligence to catch criminals, often as they leave or enter the county by vehicle.

Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, the Operation Moonshot team is able to quickly spot vehicles of interest. Photo: Archant Library.Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, the Operation Moonshot team is able to quickly spot vehicles of interest. Photo: Archant Library.

Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, the team is able to quickly spot vehicles of interest.

Over the past 24-months the operation has so far resulted in:

• Six years and six month’s-worth of imprisonment

• 113 years’ worth of driving disqualifications

Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, the Operation Moonshot team is able to quickly spot vehicles of interest. Photo: Archant Library.Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, the Operation Moonshot team is able to quickly spot vehicles of interest. Photo: Archant Library.

• More than 2,500 penalty points

• Tens of thousands of pounds of fines

• More than £1m worth of items returned, including war medals, caravans, tractors, and high-value cars

• Four shotguns seized and more than 50 knives

Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, the Operation Moonshot team is able to quickly spot vehicles of interest. Photo: Archant Library.Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, the Operation Moonshot team is able to quickly spot vehicles of interest. Photo: Archant Library.

Ralph Jackman, Norfolk Police’s organisational development manager, said part of the operation’s success was due to officers’ time being “ring-fenced”.

He said those in the Moonshot team are “unencumbered” by the routine calls other PCs have to attend.

Officers always operate as a double crew, and carry Tasers due to the type of criminals they could be dealing with.

They are then placed on the main routes into the county, or in areas where criminals have been known to strike.

Mr Jackman said what might start off as a simple traffic stop, can sometimes result in officers uncovering a much more serious crime.

He said: “An example might be an organised crime nominal just going out to Morrisons, and everything is in order, apart from them having red diesel in their car.

“But that is still enough for us, because from there we can get to the home address and what we find there might not be in order.”

Police have the ability to use Section 18 powers to search a property occupied by a person under arrest.

Giving an example, Mr Jackman said the team stopped a Ford Transit van towing a Volkswagen Touareg on the A134 at Mundford on October 28 last year.

It led to two addresses being searched, revealing cannabis cultivation and a number of other stolen vehicles.

He said it resulted in further charges, and the recovery of a white Ford Transit stolen from Essex.

Another incident resulted in the seizure of stolen laptops from the University of East Anglia before the crime had even been reported.

Mr Jackman said officers had stopped a transit van in 2016 as part of a pro-active crackdown on scrap metal theft.

Inside, they found stolen tools from a location in north Norfolk, and the laptops.

While the team was initially monitoring main routes in the west of Norfolk, it has since been moved around the county.

A spate of boat thefts in North Norfolk saw officers relocated to try to catch the criminals.

Mr Jackman said: “They [the thieves] were literally on the way back out, after getting the boats, and our patrols picked them up.

“They were pursued to Spalding and seized.”

He said the operation worked well for Norfolk as there are only so many “arterial” routes into the county.

“It would be so much more difficult to achieve in a landlocked county,” Mr Jackman said.

Operation Moonshot was originally going to be expanded to two sergeants and 16 constables as part of the Norfolk 2020 proposals announced in October 2017.

But following the police precept rise earlier this year, it will be increased to three sergeants and 21 PCs.

Mr Jackman said Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner Lorne Green has also funded four marked police cars to help speed-up the rollout of the operation.

He said in the next two months, special constables will also give 620 hours to support the operation.

“Operation Moonshot has defended communities across the county,” Mr Jackman added.

“However, to fulfil the role of Moonshot, it is necessary for the resources to be police officers in this preventative, proactive arena.”

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