Officers patrolling the streets, arrests being made, people charged – these are the tactics people know about when it comes to policing.
But often, it’s a cycle of the same offenders or local communities suffering, particularly when it comes to drug use and associated crime like theft, anti-social behaviour (ASB) and violent crime which comes hand in hand with drug use. Officers responsible for policing Lincoln city centre recognised that relying only on traditional tactics wasn’t solving the problem – so we came up with a plan that would.
This is where Operation Argentina was born. Launched in 2018, it is our dedicated city centre team. We created a team made up of response officers – those who are deployed to emerging incidents – who also carry out the longer-term work of Neighbourhood Policing Teams. This cross-over enables us to use a proactive patrolling approach alongside partnership work to prevent drug issues and the associated crimes from escalating.
When the initiative was established, multiple reports were being received to the police from retail premises, the visiting public and communities which were encountering crime, witnessing drug dealing and usage, and suffering continuous ASB.
Alongside these reports were concerns and complaints repeatedly raised to Lincoln Business Improvement Group, Pubwatch, and through community groups, public meetings, and individuals to the Neighbourhood Policing Team. The City of Lincoln Council's ASB team was receiving similar reports. Local businesses were reporting lower footfall visiting the high street and shops due to the issues. Pictures and videos were regularly being posted on social media of substance users in a comatose state or passed out on the floor, which was both frightening for the public and degrading for the individual, and caused a larger impact across the city.
The most important thing this problem-solving approach has establish, the team says, is their engagement with those who might be committing offences.
PC Craig Wray is one of the team. “There’s a perception that police are just there to knock a door down, or make an arrest, but actually, what we’re doing is engaging with people at the earliest opportunity,” said PC Wray, who regularly shared updates on the team’s progress via the Lincoln Police Facebook page. “It is about more than responding to incidents and making arrests; it’s about working with local agencies to affect change by signposting to appropriate support services, following up confidential information, and patrolling the streets.
“We proactively target those who pose the biggest risk to the public. While we cover the city centre, the majority of our work focuses around those who pose the biggest threat, harm and risk to the public, so we are doing exactly what we joined for; keeping people safe.
“So much of the work which is done by our team is unseen. There are a lot of hidden results that you can’t measure.”
Their proactive approach means that in recent months they have stop and searched a man who was found with a large volume of cannabis and a knife, and further evidence which led to a full confession at interview; a prolific shoplifter was taken off the streets, reducing demand on officers and improving conditions for the businesses being targeted; and stopping offenders whose prolific ASB behaviour has led to hundreds of incidents, all taking up valuable resources.
And this is just a snapshot.
Inspector Claire Hime, who heads up the team, said: “What we needed were long-term solutions, and to start working collaboratively with other agencies to get on the same page about what we wanted to achieve, which was making the city a safer place to live, work and visit. We all worked together to identify gaps and plug them.”
As part of the partnership work, the YMCA Day Centre added opportunities during the daytime for users to take courses and engage in activities, as well as speak with housing teams, and mental health and substance misuse services. A breakfast event was set up at the local Baptist Church, which also included the We Are With You addiction service, housing support and other professionals to attend so that they can be accessed directly by individuals.
People due to the released from prison were also identified so they could get housing applications submitted prior to release to break the cycle of homelessness leading to substance misused, which in turn leads to crime. And then back to prison – and so on.
“One of the biggest changes we made was identifying and addressing the root causes of offending," Inspector Hime added. "Working with the appropriate agencies to address mental and physical health and housing needs transformed how we engaged with individuals with complex needs at high risk of reoffending.”
This area of work is one that PC Wray and his team is particularly proud of.
“You would think that all drug users of offenders would have a really volatile relationship with the police, but we have built positive, trusting relationships being built with the homeless/vulnerable groups within the centre," he said.
“Homelessness and drug use isn’t a problem which will be “policed away”. Yes, we absolutely have a duty to tackle criminals and the offences they commit, but we’re recognising that these complex individuals need to be engaged with earlier to help prevent those issues in the first place.
“I’m at a point now where there are known individuals who I can have frank and honest conversations with, which can either mean that we can prevent them from escalating a situation, or gather intelligence which helps us police the city.
“They trust that they will be dealt with fairly, and recognise that when we’re offering advice and signposting, that it really is in their best interest.”
This ‘firm but fair’ approach which involves using discretion where appropriate, taking time to make appropriate referrals and introductions for support, has led to increased intelligence from a community which previously would never engage with police; modern day slavery offences being identified; numerous cuckooing and county lines safeguarding visits to vulnerable individuals and support for them; and referrals to the local authority ‘Vulnerable Adults Panel’.
In the first 12 months the team made 301 arrests and carried out 500 stop searches. The number of begging and drugs incidents fell as a direct result. We saw a 15% reduction in arrests of repeat offenders and an overall reduction in incidents in the city centre area of almost 20%.
During the same period partners worked hard to address homelessness, mental health and substance misuse. In their first 12 months the Rough Sleeping Team had 588 enquiries, 35 people accessing “crash pads”, 71 people access the Safer Space to Stay hub, and 53 people were given housing. The Intervention Team at the City of Lincoln Council worked with 103 individuals, and a further 34 sought support for substance misuse, and six entered treatment.
Now, this work isn’t something that is easily measured by traditional statistics; once the team had effectively addressed the on-street drug supply issue, they moved on to identifying problems and solving them before they became an issue.
The work continues every day of the year. And each one of those days provides an opportunity for our officers to protect people from harm and make our city, and the wider county a safer place to be. It’s a job PC Wray says he can’t imagine not doing.
Weapons seized as part of proactive work
The team carry out bike marking events
PC Craig Wray with dog when he visited to take a statement