Taking drugs off our streets – the officers who carry out drugs warrants (Part 1)
In a large office in a police station somewhere in Hull a team of officers get together every day to plan the next steps towards taking drugs off our streets and tackling crime related to drugs.
Looking around the room, you wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a crowd of people on any given day. They’re not in uniform but are wearing jeans, trainers, and t-shirts.
It’s a jovial but work-like atmosphere and everyone has a nickname. But they know that their job, like any other police officer, is a serious one.
They’re Humberside Police’s north bank Proactive team.
You might have read about the officers who seize drugs, cash, and weapons as well as arrest and charge people involved in drugs crime. And you’ve probably seen footage or pictures of officers knocking down doors at properties where drugs are believed to be.
Well, Detective Sergeant Ian Holland is one of them. He sat down to answer a few questions about the work the team does. And why.
Q. Tell us about the work you do and how you find out about drug dealers?
Det Sgt Holland: “We get information in lots of different ways. It can be anything from a phone call from a neighbour about constant comings and goings at a property, an anonymous source, or Crimestoppers, but mainly from intelligence gathered from officers in our intelligence team and from daily observations by the proactive team– anything about suspicions about drug dealing going on.
“We build up that intelligence through surveillance and general intelligence gathering to get a better picture of what is happening, where and who is involved. Wherever drugs are being dealt, it is usually quite obvious.
“However the information comes in, it has to be verified and corroborated. We can’t always just act on it individually as we have to build on the information we get and determine whether or not we can use our police powers or if we need to apply for a warrant. Either way, we will look to take positive action as soon as we can.
“ In order to get a warrant, we to go to a Magistrate and explain exactly what the intelligence is and why you think a warrant is the most effective solution. We can carry out overt and covert work, gather information, and put out appeals – things like that – and ultimately decide if we have enough for a warrant.”
Q. So when you get the information together, what are you looking to achieve?
“The seizure of drugs is the main reason. Whether that be spice, cannabis, cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine – whatever the drug is they all fund a criminal lifestyle for the suppliers. We also look to recover cash and assets as well as evidence of dealing and other related offences.
“The people that buy harder drugs can have criminal records too. To buy drugs they have to get money from somewhere. This is usually through theft, burglary, and vehicle crime, which creates more victims.
“Targeting the dealers reduces the availability of the drugs. It allows us to work with our partners such as drug support services and probation services to reduce the demand for drugs, and ultimately reduce crime.”
Q. How long does it take to get a warrant?
“It can be the same day. If we have good intelligence and someone contacts us with concerns we can check our systems and see if it’s corroborated with other calls.
“We can get one in half an hour, and we can be banging on the door if we think it’s proportionate at that time.”
Q. What kind of problems do people experience who live near a suspected drug dealer?
“Generally, if someone is dealing drugs – even if that’s a lower level drug like cannabis - they’re usually dealing at all times of the night and day.
"People call in to say they’re fed up with loud music, cars coming at all times and callers knocking and shouting through letter boxes.
“There may be children or old people there. You wouldn’t want people banging on a door 24 hours a day.
“The people who buy the cannabis can also be antisocial, often quite loud, and could be committing crime in the area to buy drugs. Some people think that cannabis is an acceptable drug for people to have. The law says otherwise and it’s our job is to enforce the law.
“It can be a shock when we jump out of a van, shout ‘police’ then knock down a door. We try and reassure people as soon as we can but we obviously can’t before a warrant as you don’t know who you’re speaking to, as they could be involved or give a tip-off to a dealer.
“It’s important that we reassure communities because despite the fact that some people might say ‘it’s only cannabis’, people living nearby - I’d say over 90% of them - say ‘I’m really glad you’ve done that’, or ‘I’ve been wanting you to do that’.
“Hopefully most members of the public understand what we’re doing and why, and support us.
“In the estates we go to we always get a good response from people there. The people we don’t get a good response from are generally drug users themselves who don’t like that we’re disrupting their daily lives because they want to buy the drugs.”
Q. It isn’t just single drug dealers you’re stopping – what about larger groups such as county lines drugs dealers?
“County lines is a blight across the country. You have bigger scale dealers who are using little known, young and vulnerable people to come into our areas to deal drugs for them. Their belief is that young people won’t get punished as hard. They are preying on vulnerable young people and the users themselves just so they can profit financially. They have no regard for anyone but themselves.
“These youths can get paid quite handsomely, but they don’t see the risks and don’t really know what they’re doing. But if they don’t do it, they and their families could be threatened or subject to violence. Our job isn’t just to catch the dealers, but to safeguard these vulnerable youngsters.
“On the south and north banks we’ve had people coming in from Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham who take over and live in properties of drug users and other vulnerable people and deal from there. That’s called ‘cuckooing’.
“Sometimes these people are even kicked out of their homes. The dealers will give a drug user maybe £20 worth of heroin a day while they themselves are earning hundreds or even thousands of pounds from someone else’s property.
“We’ve had some high profile success recently in Grimsby with stopping county lines drug dealers which is great.”
Q. Is drug dealing a big problem across the force area?
“Well, we execute between 100 and 150 warrants a year. Maybe 2 or 3 a week, sometimes more. And there are up to two dozen officers in the team at any one time so we get through a lot of work.
“It’s not just warrants though. We have plain clothes officers on the streets who are constantly on the look-out for drug dealers and users. We regularly see deals being done in broad daylight so arrests and seizures are made on a daily basis.
“We have a lawful power under sections 18 and 32 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to go the dealer’s address where we often find larger amounts of drugs and cash and we can seize that too.
“We have officers in plain clothes out there as we speak. People dealing drugs don’t expect to see us 24 hours a day. We’ll just pop up and, supported by uniformed colleagues, it can work really well.
“A dynamic situation might unfold in front of us in the street where we can arrest the person, search an address and recover a lot of drugs in a very short amount of time. And once you know a few tricks of the trade you can spot a dealer a mile off.”
If you have any information or concerns about drug crimes please we want you to contact us, or if you want to remain anonymous please call the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
*We will publish the second part of Det Sgt Ian Holland’s interview about the work that he and his colleagues do in a couple of days*