Teams of officers swooped on six addresses yesterday and were back on doorsteps at dawn today to take down gangs of criminals peddling misery across the city.
At least 29 suspects are being rounded up during a four-day operation in a bid to disrupt networks responsible for the supply of narcotics to large parts of Preston - and the violence they use to stay in business.
DCI Steve Holgate said: “We are looking at individuals who have been identified with respect to drug supply offences and who have a huge impact on our communities through anti-social behaviour and the violence associated with drug crime.
“By carrying out an operation like this it sends a clear message to these people. But it’s not only about the drug supply, it’s the crime that comes with it, the vulnerable people who are exploited by these individuals. It is about the violence that impacts on our communities.”
Police snatch squads hit three addresses in the city before breakfast on day one of Operation Lion yesterday and a further three in the afternoon.
At least another half dozen targets were being visited today, with more to come tomorrow and Thursday.
Operation Lion is part of the wider Operation Nexus investigation which has been running for the past year.
DCI Holgate added: “What causes people the most concern is the violence and the crime that goes alongside this and the exploitation of vulnerable people.
“Operation Nexus has been running for the last 12 months and has involved a number of specialist teams who use various covert tactics to investigate and disrupt the criminal activity of these organised crime groups.
“Today (this week) is not just a one-off action, it’s about relentless pressure being put on these organised criminals.
“Our covert specialist teams have identified 29 individuals who will be arrested in this operation over the next four days.
“At the same time we are leafleting neighbourhoods because we want to increase community confidence and instil a belief that Lancashire Constabulary is taking strong action towards organised crime and the offences associated with it.
“The key to all of this work is about showing the community that we are doing this activity.
“But it’s not just a one-off week of action, it’s a continuing thing.”
Crime commissioner on the scene
Lancashire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw was with officers who swooped on one address in the Brookfield area of the city before daybreak yesterday.
He watched as police raided a semi-detached house and led away a man in handcuffs for questioning.
He said at the scene: “We need to give out a strong message that this will be clamped down on. People will be convicted.
“In Preston over the last 12 months we have had some really significant convictions of drug dealers. We want to use that information to go to the next generation of young people who might look up to the people who drive around in expensive vehicles and think that this is attractive.
“Well, the message today is that if young people want to go on that course of activity then they will spend the next 10, 15 or 20 years of their lives in prison.
“Crime does not pay.
“There is also a strong message to the people affected by this. The police will use the information and intelligence that the local communities bring forward.
“If they pass information on that evidence will be acted upon.
“This is just one of a series of raids that have taken place over the last 12 months - and they will continue.”
First raid of 29 targeted
There was a strong media presence as Operation Lion roared into action at daybreak yesterday.
A minibus and a squad car containing the press, the county’s crime commissioner and a local county councillor, followed the snatch squads into a housing estate in the Brookfield area of Preston - one of three dawn raids happening simultaneously across the city.
Arriving at the target address - a small semi-detached property in a cul-de-sac - officers in protective gear marched up to the front door, with one PC carrying a heavy metal battering ram nicknamed “the big red key” in case a forcible entry was required. It wasn’t.
A knock on the door was answered almost immediately and the police filed straight in, carrying a search warrant which had been issued by a court over the weekend.
Inside were a man, a woman, a baby and a school aged child. While the man was taken into custody, specially trained officers tried to make sure the woman and children were not unduly alarmed by the early morning visit.
Minutes later the male, dressed in jogging pants, a sleeveless T-shirt and flip-flops was led out of the front door with his arms handcuffed behind him.
The assembled media were immediately targeted by the prisoner, who kicked over a wheelie bin and swore at the cameras as he was led away and placed in the back of a van to be taken off to the city’s police station for questioning.
Extra provision has been made at the station’s custody suite this week to accommodate a steady stream of arrivals, with at least 29 arrests expected to be made under Operation Lion by Thursday afternoon.
Operation Lion is part of the wider Operation Nexus which has been underway in Preston for the past year.
In a similar week of raids earlier in the year police made 17 arrests and seized a large amount of drugs, cash and weapons.
Police say over the past 12 months a total of 94 warrants have been executed in the division in respect of organised crime.
Five gang injunctions have been imposed on groups and four people are currently in custody after a man was kidnapped following a dispute between rival crime groups.