DISRUPTION is the main aim of Essex Police’s specialist units drafted in to support Southend in the face of rising violence.

The Operational Support Group (OSG) are a countywide unit of about 14 officers who support operations with specialist assets and skills.

For the past two weeks, a handful of them have been dispatched to the borough to help with Operation Southend which was launched to tackle the increase in drug and gang activity across the town.

We, the Echo, went out with two of the officers to see first-hand how they are disrupting the day-to-day behaviour of dealers and users.

PC Tom Clinton and PC Chris Holmes started their shift at 8am along with two other members of OSG and were patrolling the streets of Southend when we joined them at 2pm.

PC Tom Clinton said: “We’ve been drafted in to help with the increase in violent crime they’ve had in the area. I don’t know if it’s a real increase or just an increase in the reporting.

“In the past, if you had one member of the drugs community stabbing another one, we could get called by a third party witness.

“Nowadays, they tend to call us themselves. They never used to – it used to be a little bit more of a secret but now they are very brazen and open about it.”

The OSG team have a dedicated officer monitoring automated number plate recognition (ANPR) data in any specified area.

This means if a car with a “drugs marker” attached pings an ANPR camera, officers on the ground can be quickly informed and sent to investigate.


PC Tom Clinton and PC Chris Holmes

And that is just what happened minutes into the ride-along.

Having had intelligence that a pink Ford Ka was involved in drug activity and had been spotted in a known problem area, the officers tracked it down.

The suspect car was located parked on the corner of Brittania Road, Westcliff, and as soon as they saw the marked police car, they drove off.

PC Holmes has been in OSG since its inception.

He said: “That’s the problem with being in a marked car.

“If we were in a plain car we could park up and watch from afar and wait to see if she’s waiting for a pick up.”

A quick flash of the lights and siren and the driver was instructed to pull over.

They checked the police’s database for any information linking them to drug activity and an intelligence report was logged.

Back on patrol, the officers continued to provide a visible presence to the public and look out for any suspicious activity.

PC Clinton, who has been in OSG for two months, said: “We’re not as beholden to the radio as some of the guys that work round here are. They are having to respond to 999 calls when they come in. We don’t have to worry about that unless it’s serious and we’re close to it. So we get to operate outside of that world and be more proactive which is part of the reason we get deployed to these areas.”

One increasingly complex challenge for the teams tackling drug and gang violence is cuckooing - when dealers take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to create a base from which to deal drugs.

PC Clinton said: “Cuckooing is providing a more complex challenge in some respects because they are very mobile and in terms of reduction of PCSOs and the way teams are working now, we don’t get as much community intelligence as we used to.

“People are quite reticent about ringing Crimestoppers or the police to report stuff but they will talk to their local bobby on the beat when they walk past which means the local cop is more likely to pick up on stuff like that so I think we do miss out on a lot of that.

“That being said our teams that deal with those issues are getting to know these addresses very well and getting in there to disrupt the activity as much as they can.”

Since the operation began, the teams have already seized a large quantity of drugs and weapons and made several arrests.

Acting Sgt Dave Gardiner said: “The public will have seen more officers. A patrol plan was devised to cover high-priority areas of concern.

“It has been going very well and we have seen the benefits already.” Pick up the Echo next Tuesday for a full breakdown of how the operation has gone.