TWELVE months of precise planning, evidence gathering, undercover work and patience went into Wiltshire Police’s largest-ever single day of action today.
More than 400 police staff executed warrants at more than 50 addresses as a part of Operation Harness, the Force’s long-term undercover investigation into the supply of class A drugs into Wiltshire.
Harness has been in existence since May 8 last year and there have been several raids and multiple arrests made since then, but yesterday was Wiltshire Police’s hammer blow which targeted 15 separate drug networks operating in Swindon.
Chief Superintendent Paul Mills, head of local policing, said: “This is the culmination of a year’s worth of covert activity.
“The drug problem in Swindon is not disproportionate to anywhere else in the country of a similar size to Swindon.
“The detrimental impact of crack and heroin in the town extends to user’s families and the wider community. It is time to act.”
Police chiefs were only able to draw up the ambitious bid to put Swindon’s biggest drug dealers behind bars due to a year’s worth of undercover work, which placed officers on the frontline and inside the dealers’ inner circle.
An array of factors had to be taken into consideration by Detective Inspector Mike Rees, senior investigating officer for the investigation, and his colleagues before a date could be set on executing their warrants.
DI Rees said: “Undercover officers have been working on this operation for the past 12 months. In November we had the first phase of arrests when 19 people were apprehended.
“Thirteen of those were charged. We anticipate, following this day of action, there will be further arrests being made.
“Our officers have been undercover daily for the best part of 12 months. I have nothing but admiration for them and the job they do as they mingle with drug dealers and thieves.
“They are in volatile and violent situations every day.”
“There’s a lot of work involved in building up to a day of action like this. The files have to be up to a certain standard. Evidence for every one of those we arrest has to be ready for their interviews.
“We are talking about 65 individuals. We have to choose a day when we can bring all of the officers required together and catch as many criminals in one go.
“We are closing an entire custody unit to bring these people in. We had to choose a day when that would minimise the impact on other operations.
“Intelligence will be checked right up until the hour before we execute our warrants. We will liaise with our sources and ensure we are moving on the right addresses at the right time.
“We have a good intelligence network in Swindon. Like I said, there isn’t a lot that goes on in Swindon involving drugs that we don’t know about.”