The next in our series of the people who make up the Op Galaxy team features four of our Method of Entry (MoE) officers – the ones that carry out the high profile ‘door knocks’ at properties while executing warrants.
They’re the ones who use the recognisable ‘red key’ to break through doors in the search for criminals, drugs, weapons, and cash.
PC Andy Major, PC Neil Gibson, PC Scott Greenwood and PC Stu James spoke about their work.
Q. Firstly, who makes up the Op Galaxy teams?
PC Major: Op Galaxy has brought together people from all across the force on the north and south banks. There are two teams which run alongside each other and they’re made up of around eight members of staff.
Some people have specialisms, others don’t. The teams include licenced search officers, MoE which is putting the doors in, and detectives to name just a few. Different people have different skills. We also support different departments in the force. When we carry out a job we all come together and do it as a group.
Q. So what do each of you specialise in?
PC Major: I’m a licenced search officer, MoE trained, surveillance trained and a public order trained officer.
PC Gibson: I’m also MoE trained, I’m a licenced search officer and I’m also a Hazardous Environment Operations (HEO) officer.
PC Greenwood: I’m a Taser officer, MoE officer, licenced search officer and public order trained.
PC James: I’m a licenced search officer and MoE trained as well as being a boat handler. Not that that means anything in this! I was in a role similar to this about five years ago, looking at organised crime groups and disruptions.
Q. How did you get involved with Op Galaxy?
PC James: There was an email asking for expressions of interest. So, we had to write 300 words and send it to a Chief Superintendent, expressing why we wanted to be involved in it. From that the applicants were whittled down to the team that we’ve got.
PC Major: You basically had to sell yourself in those 300 words. That included what skills you could bring to the team, and what the benefits of putting you in the team were. From those applications, they picked sixteen of us.
Q: Did you have to go through any new training before starting on Op Galaxy?
PC Gibson: We didn’t. There will be certain aspects of MoE which we can get more training on. Hopefully that’ll happen in the next couple of weeks.
For instance there are different doors that are coming out on the market which the one man ram (red key) doesn’t have an effect on. The security is too good. It’s a natural progression of what we are up against and what we can use, so we need to be trained for it.
PC James: Some of the council properties have got very good composite doors that are difficult to get through, so we’ve identified someone who can train us to use a ‘steel saw’.
You can run the saw along a door, take out the locks and walk straight in. It’s quicker and quieter. With our kit now, when you start to smack the door they know what’s coming. How good or bad the door is depends on how quickly we get in.
With the new doors, it’s a bit more difficult, but with the steel saw it takes seconds. The ARVs are the only officers trained in that at the moment. We are hopefully going to be trained to use it.
Q: You’ve mentioned that people can hear you hitting the door on your way into an address. Does that mean you could be walking into a dangerous situation?
PC Major: So far thankfully we haven’t had any issues. When we go in a door, we wear our full Police Support Unit (PSU) kit which includes all the protective gear, pads, helmets, gloves, etc.
The idea is once we get through a door we have to be ready to face whatever is on the other side. That means when we go in, we’re all equipped to deal with anybody that’s in the address and protect us from whoever’s inside. Of course we have to protect the people inside as well from any harm.
PC Greenwood: That’s ultimately why we want to do the saw training, so we can get in quicker and have a better element of surprise. That way, we can catch potential criminals unaware and get them detained quicker.
PC Major: The more time we spend on a door, the more time they have to prepare for us to come in. It sometimes takes us 5-10 minutes to get inside. They could grab a weapon, but luckily that hasn’t happened yet.
PC James: They could also go and flush evidence down the toilet, or throw it out of the address.
Q: What information do you receive before going out to a job?
PC Major: We get packages sent to us in a morning. The idea is that the jobs we do have already been assessed, so there should be good intelligence that there’s going to be something inside the address when we go on a job.
We do have the luxury of having a dedicated intelligence team attached to us who set our jobs up every day. That’s really helped us to get good results.
PC Greenwood: The results are only as good as the intelligence that’s coming in. The more intelligence we get that’s fresh and new, the better the job goes. We’re hitting the right addresses at the right times. We are basically an intelligence led team because without that, we wouldn’t be getting the results that we have.
PC Gibson: At present, we’re also getting high profile arrest packages sent to us. Obviously, these people don’t want to be caught so they’ll try and get away. If two officers are at the front door, they’ll go out the back. But we have the luxury as a team of being able to surround a house if we know someone is in there and get these criminals off the street.
PC Major: We get wanted people packages as well, so if we’re not doing pre-planned warrants, we’ll take some of those and go hunting for wanted people. That can be for the people who are more evasive or who are wanted for more serious offences.
Sometimes other divisions don’t have the resources to go and do a lock-up attempt, but we can send seven or eight people to an address or spend half a day looking for someone because we’ve got more time.
Q: How important do you think proactive policing teams are?
PC James: I think there’s a need for this role. It would naturally evolve into something where we could be working with other areas of the police service – firearms officers, for arguments sake.
They could have some intelligence on somebody who may be carrying a firearm that’s linked to organised crime. They’d do their bit and then we can go in and try to find further evidence to support any criminal prosecution.
PC Major: We didn’t have enough officers to meet the demand of things coming in. This would’ve been seen as a luxury but now we can get back to having teams doing jobs like this every single day, which is what we need to do.
Some of the criminals have had it easy over the last couple of years because they’ve not had all these door knocks and warrants. They’ll be wondering what’s hit them this last couple of weeks and, at the minute, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel because there’s so many people we can hit.
PC Gibson: I think the communities like to see us doing it as well. I’ve come from community policing into this role and yes, we do warrants and proactively police but not as much as we want to.
So when we are doing these jobs and with all the things going up on social media, we are getting a really positive feedback with people saying ‘good luck’, ‘great work’ and that sort of thing.
PC James: It does go hand in hand with the community element of the police force. They can support Op Galaxy by saying ‘these are our problems, or profile people’. Intelligence can then do their research and get a warrant and we can work with them to sort out the problem.
It could be that as a result of us conducting a search, that particular individual goes to prison for a period of time that makes the area they were in safer.
I would also say the public need to keep talking to us if they have a problem, whether it’s through Crimestoppers or social media. It’s like a big jigsaw puzzle. They could be passing the small piece of that puzzle that shows us the proper picture. I encourage them to make contact because it could be their next door neighbour that we get next and it could solve their problems for them.