Police have revealed how they smashed organised crime gangs in Birmingham during lockdown – recovering drugs, guns and ‘cash hidden under beds’.
The West Midlands force deliberately targeted leading criminals when the country was ordered to stay at home because of Covid-19.
Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Payne said an enlarged squad carried out raids which uncovered huge amounts of stockpiled drugs, money and guns – including one linked to a murder.
The head of West Midlands Police CID said the force saw a huge fall in traditional crime after lockdown began in March, with a 41 per cent drop in serious violence in the first two weeks compared to the year before.
There was also a 34 per cent fall in burglary in the first week of lockdown, while knife crime plunged 39 per cent for the whole of March compared to 12 months before.
The dramatic crime lull allowed police to focus on new targets while the streets were largely empty – and those targets were organised crime gangs.
DCS Payne said: “We took a decision really early that what we were going to proactively go after organised crime/organised criminals.
“So we tried over the COVID period to really push and turn this round as quickly as we can – to go through as many criminals’ doors as we can.
“And we have been really extraordinarily successful, more successful than I’ve ever known in my policing career.
“The volume and the quantity of criminal activity we’ve been able to disrupt and the amount of money and drugs and firearms recovered has been really quite extraordinary.
“I’ve seen officers with huge smiles on their faces celebrating some of the successes we’ve had against organised crime.
“I’m sure as things return back to normal, we’ll see organised crime trying to re-establish some of the footholds.
“But it (the operation) has I’m sure made a difference to organised crime and organised criminals in the West Midlands.”
Lockdown had left major criminals with fewer options in terms of dealing in drugs like heroin and cocaine and hiding firearms, DCS Payne said.
“What we started to see was the normal way criminals operated was being hampered by COVID,” he said.
“What you often see is senior criminals using junior criminals to do their bidding, to run round, to move drugs, to move forearms.
“They were less able to do that.
“So we were able to catch the more senior criminals with their hands on a commodity, whether it be drugs or firearms.
“All of that came as a consequence of COVID. We got on the front foot and quickly started turning round intelligence, we pulled all our local policing teams together, Force CID were leading locally.”
He aded: “The senior criminals didn’t have access to the normal people they used.
“In the clutter of daily life when there’s mums taking kids to school, parents going to work, all the clutter of daily life, it’s easy to move around in society without people noticing.
“It’s much, much less easy when none of that is happening – when you are the only people moving around.
“The police are still moving around so you’ve got much more chance of being stopped by police, so people were less able to move material around.”
He added: “And they were on occasions stockpiling materials, stockpiling drugs, to allow them to continue to operate their business since lockdown was lifted.
“So we had more opportunities to steal good quantities, it was the perfect storm of society shutting down making criminals more visible – criminals not being able to operate their criminal networks in the same way as they had in the past.
“All of which meant that when we were going through doors we were finding really good quantities of drugs, in a way that we don’t always have an opportunity to do.
“We were going into houses and finding literally kilos and kilos of Class A drugs sitting up against walls.
“We were lifting mattresses and finding tens of thousands of pounds. Stuff under people’s beds.
“We found multiple firearms in one address, and lots of ammunition.
“Those sorts of things don’t typically happen because they get dispersed across multiple locations and multiple houses.
“So the size and quantity of some of these recoveries have been pretty unique.”
He paid tribute to the ‘force effort’ in arresting so many major criminals.
“It wasn’t just the CID and local policing,” he said.
“There weren’t football gangs to deal with so we’d got our operational support unit available to us. There were fewer firearms offences so we could get support from our firearms unit – it was a whole force effort.
“We were able to divert all spare capacity and just really point it at organised crime.
“I’m sure I’ll never see the opportunity again on the scale that it was.
“It did feel like our numbers had almost doubled overnight, people were not being diverted to some of the normal policing activity that we experience.
“We had a massive, massive team of officers available to point at organised crime. It was just fantastic.
“I think the average man on the street who’s spent the last ten years reading the papers and watching the news would probably expect us to go after the gangs in Birmingham, the gangs in Coventry and the gangs in Wolverhampton – the areas were you were typically seeing lots of high level criminality, lots of shootings, lots of murders, between those gangs.
“Those were exactly the people we went after and those areas are where we have had some real sustained success and I think it will damage some of those organised crime gangs quite significantly.”
Meanwhile, DCS Payne said all officers were also overwhelmed by kindness shown by the public during the Covid crisis.
“I’ve been in the police for 26 years and police officers are exposed often to the very worst aspects of society,” he said.
“But my overarching experience over 26 years and this has been reinforced by COVID is that people are fantastic – the people we work for and police are brilliant, the way that they feel about police and all emergency services is really quite moving sometimes.
“There are always people in society who do bad, bad things and harm the people.
“But the vast majority of people are brilliant and massively supportive and their warmth and support has been reinforced through COVID.”