This report is to give members the opportunity to review the Council’s role in Operation Puglia.
Detective Sergeant Yasser Awad provided a presentation outlining the role and key outcomes of Operation Puglia. This was set up in October 2017, in response to an increase in violent crime. This included a rise in the use of knives and firearms. Operation Puglia came to fruition in July 2018 as 78 individuals from across Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F), Kensington & Chelsea (K&C) and Westminster City Council (WCC) were arrested during the enforcement phase of the operation. In addition, 15 juveniles from the Council were arrested and 71 individuals were charged with a total of 344 offences as part of the operation. Safeguarding was regarded as a key factor for consideration as work had progressed by incorporating a safeguarding custody and public protection hub as part of the arrest phase. This included a reception centre for children at risk.
Working in collaboration with multi-agencies was essential to tackling the exploitation of children and the intimidation of local communities of these criminal gangs. The Youth Offending Service convened multi-agency meetings after the enforcement phase to consider whether any of the young people arrested were victims of modern slavery. Furthermore, tenancy action was taken and as result 16 Council tenancies were identified as being directly involved in the drug activity.
A resident asked whether any of the individuals that were convicted of drug dealing were drug addicts. DS Yasser Awad explained that majority of the people that were arrested were drug dealers and not addicts, however outreach workers were working with these individuals to identify any drug use ensuring that appropriate support was in place if this was the case.
Councillor Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler asked out of the individuals that were arrested, how many were sent to prison and whether the Police were satisfied with the sentences issued. DS Yasser Awad explained that some of the individuals that pleaded early, depending on their age were issued with fines and criminal behaviour orders, however the exact figures could be provided after the meeting. In addition, the courts issued set levels of sentencing based on the crime that was committed i.e. drug runners could be sentenced to a maximum of three years. He added that sentencing didn’t always act as a deterrent but certainly took the criminals off the streets for a period to prevent further crime related activities.
Councillor Victoria Brocklebank-Fowler noted that majority of the arrests made were from the borough, compared to the other two boroughs and asked if the Police expected this to be the case. DS Yasser Awad said that he had been working in this borough for many years and from his experience this wasn’t unexpected. The Police found there to be higher number of drug dealers, operating in this area, compared to the other two boroughs. However, was impressed at the number of arrests made and the decrease in the drug activity as a result of Operation Puglia.
A resident asked what was the scope for operation Puglia and whether this was a rolling operation. Furthermore, he asked for clarification around what actions were taken in relation to the juveniles that were arrested to prevent further crime within the borough. DS Yasser Awad explained that this was an unprecedented move and was a direct response to a rise in violent crime linked to gang activity and drug supply across the three boroughs at the time. In addition, all 15 juveniles were charged on the day of arrest and remanded to go to court the next day. The Police would look at working with the Youth Offending Services to enforce conditions on these induvials as part of the longer-term strategy, however this was still a working progress.
Bev Sharpe, Assistant Director of Family Services explained that the Council was working with the juveniles and would continue to offer them support services and engage them in positive activities to ensure that they were not being exploited. In addition, most remained engaged with the Youth Offending Services through a bespoke intervention plan devised to address the issue leading to their involvement in crime.
Councillor Ann Rosenberg asked how crime was monitored within the borough. In response DS Yasser Awad explained that ward officers, uniformed Police officers and the Council’s CCTV unit worked in collaboration to gather intelligence and ascertain the suitable strategies to tackle crime across the borough.
Councillor Iain Cassidy asked how many Council properties were directly affected by cuckooing and what measures were put into place to protect tenants that were at risk going forward. In response DS Yasser explained that 4 Council addresses were impacted as a result. Criminal behaviour orders were put into place against the perpetrators. Welfare checks were also conducted by the Police in relation to the victims. Furthermore, Claire Rai, Head of Community Safety explained that injunctions would be put into place by the Council to provide additional protection for the victims as soon as any vulnerabilities were identified. The Council would try to maintain the tenancy of the individual at risk and therefore a less enforcement-based approach was considered to be more effective.
That the Committee reviewed and commented on the report.