A joint initiative between three police forces, which involves night-time stop checks on suspicious people and vehicles, has led to a series of arrests and reduced levels of countryside crime.
Meetings between Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire police forces, designed to exchange local intelligence, identified suspects operating across more than county who were believed to be responsible for an increase in rural crime incidents.
Landowners were reporting regular incidents of night-time poaching, with significant damage as a result.
Remote rural premises with outbuildings were also being targeted as criminals sought out high-value power tools, quad bikes, trailers and other vehicles.
“The criminality negatively impacted the rural economy and public confidence in policing,” says Inspector Wayne Nock from Dorset Police.
“I proposed and led a tri-force initiative to directly target this criminality.”
Key to the plan, known as Operation Midas, was the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems, to specifically target cross-border criminals who were using the road networks to commit rural crime.
Officers from each of the three forces kept in regular contact, enabling an offending pattern to be drawn up.
Specialist units were drafted in to provide an enhanced presence, during the hours of darkness, in areas which did not routinely see proactive patrols.
These units included Road Policing, Armed Response Vehicle, Dog Section and Air Support.
Officers came together to implement spot checks on vehicles and to disperse suspected poachers using powers granted under the Anti-Social Crime & Policing Act 2014.
To help plan the operation, Force Intelligence Bureaus from all three counties worked together to consider the intelligence requirements needed to tackle the problem.
At every tri-force meeting each FIB submitted a briefing document, which covered the intelligence gathered from the previous four or five weeks.
The force that was hosting the meeting then collated this into a single ‘live time intelligence’ document that was distributed by email between all members of the group.
This sped up information-sharing, for example, allowing requests for IDs of suspects or pictures of recently stolen quad bikes to be shared more quickly than normal.
Sharing intelligence in this way allowed investigations to proceed more promptly and effectively, often resulting in arrests across force areas. In one instance, officers in Wiltshire were able to disperse poachers from Dorset using Section 35 powers on the basis of intelligence provided to them.
“A recent Midas operation resulted in over 50 vehicles stopped, three arrests and relevant useful intelligence gained,” says Inspector Nock.
“It is repeated at intervals throughout the year with Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire forces taking turns in leading the initiative.”
The success of the operation, which has now been implemented four times, is such that Avon & Somerset and Devon & Cornwall forces are now planning to join in.
To ensure effective control is maintained, it is planned that next time Operation Midas runs there will be a Western and Eastern operation with two separate, but linked, operational orders and staffing plans.
While the focus will be on the areas bordering each of the five forces involved, it should have a positive impact across a large part of the south of England.
“Midas is a recognised tactic in the fight against rural crime across five forces,” adds Inspector Nock.
“Rural communities’ trust and confidence in the police increased following the visible demonstration of police support to them.”
Inspector Nock says one of the keys to operational effectiveness had been enlisting the support of the operational support officers from units like traffic, ARV and proactive policing teams.
“A good spread of ANPR-equipped vehicles, together with the ability to read and react to static ANPR reads, is also an essential part of the operation,” he says.
In a further demonstration of co-operation, the three forces have also coordinated additional local operations targeting poachers, where officers work alongside gamekeepers and landowners.
Each force agreed to run their particular anti-poaching operation on the same night, to run concurrent with Operation Midas.
This meant that each force had many extra knowledgeable eyes and ears out on the ground and police resources could be dispatched to any incident very quickly.
Legislation used: Section 35 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime & Policing Act 2014.
Identifying the problem
From analysis of reported crime, we discovered:
- Remote rural premises with outbuildings were being targeted and high value, power-tools, quad bikes, trailers and vehicles stolen.
- Rural landowners were subjected to regular incidents of night-time poaching with significant damage to land and fences being caused.
- This criminality negatively impacted the rural economy and public confidence in policing.
Neighbourhood policing and regular meetings with neighbouring forces identified that they were experiencing a very similar problem. Cross border crime patterns were spotted and many of the suspects from each area were the same.
Analysis by Force Intelligence Bureaus confirmed this.
Regular contact between officers from adjoining forces at Neighbourhood level enabled an offending/offenders pattern to be drawn up. This is now updated and shared at every Tri Force meeting so the latest information from each Force is always available.
Legislation changes - Existing
Section 35 of the Anti-social Behaviour Crime & Policing Act 2014
Effective use of Section 35 of the Anti-social Behaviour Crime & Policing Act 2014 was used to disperse suspected poachers from vulnerable areas.
For example: Poachers from Dorset were located in Wiltshire where they did not have information on their PNC. Due to the operation, local intelligence was instantly available to the Wiltshire officers informing their effective use of the Section 35 power.
- I attended a meeting between Dorset, Hampshire Wiltshire Neighbourhood officers which identified high levels of non-dwelling burglaries, thefts and poaching in isolated rural areas across the 3 County borders.
- I proposed & led a tri – Force initiative to directly target this criminality.
- Following a NDM review Operation Midas was the result.
- I met with respective Neighbourhood inspectors, Operational support commanders and our Force Rural Crime lead to achieve commitment to the initiative.
- Key staff for the operation was the NPT’s from Wiltshire, Hampshire and Dorset.
- To maximise the effectiveness of the operation it was vital to enlist the participation of operational support officers, e.g. Traffic, ARV, Proactive policing teams and Special Constables.
- A good spread of ANPR equipped vehicles together with the ability to read and react to static ANPR reads is also an essential part of the operation.
- I used existing tasking meetings to lobby for additional specialist resources including Road Policing Units, ARV officers, Dog section and Air Support, to provide an enhanced presence during hours of darkness in areas which do not routinely see proactive patrols.
- Planning and deployment has been the template for four subsequent Operations each Force leading in turn.
- Bolting on existing partnership initiatives with rural business communities ensured a joined-up approach across three counties.
It was found that each Force area ran their own local operation targeting poachers by working with gamekeepers, landowners etc. To maximise the impact of the overall operation each participating Force ran their particular anti-poaching operation on the same night to run concurrent with Midas. This meant that each force had many extra knowledgeable eyes and ears out on the ground coupled with the many extra resources dedicated to Op Midas. As a result incidents occurring in isolated rural areas were not only reported in but police resources were able to be dispatched and arrive at scene very quickly. This is in complete contrast to what would normally be the case.
- Rural communities trust and confidence in the Police increased following visible demonstrations of police support to rural communities.
- I have met with landowners, farmers and gamekeepers who are all very supportive of the Operation.
- They confirmed that they felt that rural crime issues were finally being taken seriously and acted upon.
What didn't work
It was planned to mix crewing between Forces for each patrol vehicle.
Communications and local Force practices meant this deployment tactic was reduced in its use.
- Recent MIDAS (Feb 15) resulted in over fifty vehicles stopped, three arrests and relevant useful intelligence gained and disseminated.
- Poaching prevented with individuals unknown to that Force area effectively searched, dispersed from the area using the new ASB legislation and intelligence gained as a direct result of Midas information sharing.
- Midas is a recognised tactic in the fight against rural crime across five counties, now with Avon & Somerset and Devon & Cornwall.
The next planned Operation Midas will be run across five Force areas. To ensure effective control is maintained there will be a Western and an Eastern operation with two separate but linked Operational Orders and staffing plans. This is an exciting development, it is still focused around the areas bordering each of the Forces involved but will now be able to positively impact a very large part of the South.
- Operation Midas is repeated at intervals throughout the year with Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire forces taking turns on leading the initiative.
- Other Forces are now involved so to maintain the local cross border perspective Midas principles will be replicated in other areas but maintaining the information sharing.
- With the participation of Avon & Somerset and Devon & Cornwall, the tri Force meetings are now replicated to the East and West.
- Devon and Cornwall, Dorset (Western), Wiltshire (Western) and Avon & Somerset (South West) meeting at one location to the West.
- Then Dorset (Eastern), Hampshire, Wiltshire (Eastern) & Avon & Somerset (Eastern) meeting at a location more to the East.
- As can be seen the Forces on the outer edge of each area only attend one meeting but those in between need to send representatives to each meeting due to their bordering different areas.
- The principles remain in that each force takes it in turn to host and they will take place at the same time. The intelligence and E mail distribution remains one for the whole group combined but to avoid unnecessary travelling and relevance at meetings the two pronged approach has been developed.