How West Yorkshire's Firearms Prevent Team is tackling soaring gun crime rate
As soon as a criminal fires a gun anywhere in West Yorkshire, the clock starts ticking for a new team of specialist detectives.
While armed response teams are often first to the scene, trying to catch the gunmen before they flee, not far behind will be investigators from the Firearms Prevent Team.
The first aim is to gather as much information as possible from the scene in the so-called ‘golden hour’, the vital period of time in the immediate aftermath when evidence, whether it be eyewitness accounts, bullet casings or CCTV footage, can best be retrieved.
The detectives team up with local bobbies to identify the victim and suspects, work with forensics teams to get ballistics evidence to a national analysis centre and start building their case.
The team was set up in June last year amid alarm about soaring gun crime across West Yorkshire – the number of shooting incidents causing damage or injury had more than trebled from 19 in 2014/15 to 60 in 2016/17.
And, according to the senior detective leading the squad, it is starting to make a difference.
Det Chief Insp Jaz Khan said: “You can never determine why it has gone up but what I can say is I can tell you why it has come down.
“We’ve improved our response to gun crime and the way we are tackling it; the way there is a single team of dedicated detectives.”
He said the number of shooting incidents had dropped to 50 in 2017/18, the team’s first year of operation, and were currently standing at 35 for the first half of 2018/19.
In Leeds alone, he said, the number of shootings causing injury was down by 13 per cent.
He said: “I accept we have had the sad murder of Christopher Lewis. However, overall, that is actually a reduction in Leeds, year on year.”
The number of gun and ammunition seizures had also risen since the team’s formation, he said.
Det Chief Insp Khan said by analysing the crimes and looking at the patterns, they could begin to target the criminals.
And they had their sights firmly set on “the right people” – the high-ranking offenders at the heart of gun crime who caused the most harm to communities, predominantly in the large urban areas of Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield when gang rivalries can lead to outbreaks of violence.
He said: “We do a lot of assertive management of these nominals. We know who they are. They get daily visits.”
In tackling street gangs, they have twice used gang injunctions – dubbed ‘gangbos’ – to bar them from associating with each other.
Det Chief Insp Khan said it was about disrupting their entire network.
He said: “You are always going to get the ones that are leading and organising and you are going to get the ones that are doing their bidding for them.
“So we are not just looking at the ones that are organising or leading, we will also always identify the other players as well.”
They also investigate the trade in handguns, shotguns and replica firearms which have been converted into viable weapons.
“We will investigate anyone that’s in possession of them, or moving them or selling them or transferring them or converting them,” he said.
He said they had regular meetings with forces across Yorkshire and the Humber, as well as developing close links with those in Manchester and Merseyside.
“We are talking to the other forces so where there is movement of firearms we understand the bigger picture,” he said.
Another key part of the team’s work is trying to prevent young people from getting involved in gangs and gun crime in the first place.
Det Chief Insp Khan said: “What we are finding is that some of our offenders are getting younger and that’s why we are investing in a lot of early intervention work.
“Some of our suspects are as young as 17.”
Police funding has been used to bring a new gang programme, Get Away and Get Safe, into primary schools, with 1,000 Year Six children so far taught about the dangers of gangs.
“The message and the content is around retaliation, county lines, sexual exploitation, weapons, gang identity, that kind of stuff,” Det Chief Insp Khan said.
“That’s really our next generation of children. As the offenders are getting younger, we are tackling the primary schools.”
Another programme, to begin in the new year, will target young people “at risk of getting into gangs” and team them up with mentors who have turned their backs on a life of crime.
It will be paid for with £50,000 recovered from the proceeds of crime and will be the first time the programme, run by the St Giles Trust charity, will have expanded beyond London.
And while the Firearms Prevent Team has started making inroads into gun crime, there is still plenty of work ahead, Det Chief Insp Khan conceded.
“Even one firearms discharge is one too many. What we want to see as a force is a reduction in gun crime and the use of the most harmful firearms like your handguns and your firearms,” he said.
“We want to see an increase in intelligence from the public around storage and conversion. We want to see an increase in arrests, recoveries and we want to work in partnership with schools, the local authority and we will never take our eye off the ball in relation to gun crime.”