HILLINGDON Borough Police is one of the first in London to step up its detection of wanted criminals with the creation of a dedicated new unit. It has also created a specialised CCTV squad who spend hours scanning images to provide clues to solving crimes. Reporter DAN COOMBS visited Uxbridge Police Station to find out more...
NICKNAMED the 'Fugitive' unit, the Offender Management Team have a clear brief: anybody who does not attend their court date, or fails to answer bail or questioning, will be hunted down and arrested.
A team of six police officers have been redeployed from their previous duties in Hillingdon, to take on the tasks set before them, with the team forming in March.
Since its inception, over 30 of the borough's most wanted criminals have been located, and either put back into the legal system to face charges, or even sent to jail, if they have committed any further offences.
PC George Collins, said: "When we get a tip off as to where a wanted offender might be, we will go out ourselves, and arrest them.
"Obviously there are risk assessments that need to be done, in each case, as we need to establish whether a suspect might be armed or not."
A spectacular success story was realised last month, when an offender who had served a prison sentence for assault, robbery, and attempted murder in the borough was brought in, after committing another serious assault on his partner.
He had also spent several years on the run in Ireland, which is why he came back to Hillingdon.
Through making enquiries with various housing companies, as to where his known associates could be, and struck lucky.
An armed response team was sent out, with a dog unit, who found him at the address in Northwood.
He surrendered, and has been sent back to jail for breaching his release conditions by committing an assault, and will now face charges in Ireland.
"That was a real success" adds PC Collins, "but our job is not just all about making arrests, we have to do a lot of research."
A typical day will involve getting into the office at 6am, and whoever is on the early shifts, will check for overnight arrests across the Metropolitan Police region, and with neighbouring forces, in Thames Valley and Hertfordshire, to see if any of their wanted men or women have been picked up through the night.
As soon as an offender is listed as wanted, their details are logged on the police's internal systems, allowing officers to carry out a PNC check when they pull over a driver, so they can cross-reference.
It is also believed that two or three suspects could be hiding out in the Costa del Sol, and work is ongoing to bring them in, but extradition laws make the process a lot more complicated, so some of the more successful results take place within Hillingdon borough.
PC Anita Alli said: "We have regular contact with the NHS service, and the Department of Work and Pensions, as we work to build up a profile of where somebody might be.
"Our experience has taught us that we can reason with people that when they realise how much trouble they might be in, that they may turn themselves in.
"One offender I had already come into contact with from my previous role in the Beat Crimes unit.
"We had his phone number as his property was at the police station, and I phoned him up and explained the seriousness of the situation and he handed himself straight in and appeared at court the next day."
PC Collins also had words of praise for the safer neighbourhood teams (SNTs).
"They carry out our work at ground level, and have a great rapport within communities. They are able to help us track down suspects and without them, we could not do our job as effectively."
"There are often hours of footage to look through at a time, but somebody has to sit through it, " says Sergeant Tim Moriarty, in charge of the police's new VIIDO Unit.
VIIDO stands for visual imaging, identification, and detection of offenders, and is Hillingdon Police force's new secret weapon against fighting crime.
With a team of specially trained officers poring through footage taken from shops and street CCTV cameras, offenders are finding they have nowhere to hide.
"My team are whizkids," Moriarty adds, "We are finding that CCTV really is a wonderful tool to fighting crime, and we are going to be pushing out more and more images through the media to identify offenders as the months progress."
In the first instance when an offence is committed, the team will visit the location, and take the CCTV tapes to study.
They will then study the footage, in order to establish whether any clear shots were captured, which could assist with the identification of a suspect.
When an image is located, it is circulated around the Safer Neighbourhood Teams, and neighbouring boroughs.
In one instance, last week, a serial shoplifter in Hayes had been identified by Harrow officers, who were able to make an arrest as he was on their ground.
In the 15-20 minutes the Gazette was in the Viido Unit last week, two more successful identifications came through, and whenever they do it gives spirits a lift, showing the hard work and long hours the team put in is worthwhile.
"Not many boroughs in London have a dedicated unit like this, we have a constant stream of identifications coming in.
"CCTV is a valuable tool and has beena round for years, but it is about using it properly and getting the most out of it, which our specially trained team are able to do, accurately, and quickly, getting the relevant information ready in forms of presentations for officers who are about to start their shifts."