Specials ops make impact

The start of the knife arch trial at Wigan and Leigh College on Parson's Walk during operation Lockdown earlier this year: Public services student Jake Adamson tries out the knife arch
The start of the knife arch trial at Wigan and Leigh College on Parson's Walk during operation Lockdown earlier this year: Public services student Jake Adamson tries out the knife arch
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TREACLE, Staysafe, Dominator, Storm, Target, Lockdown and Reindeer...

These names could have come straight from the pages of a Second World War novel.

But in fact these modern-day monikers are used to describe some of the major campaigns which aim to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour in Wigan borough.

And the beauty of them is that they are immediately identifiable to all the agencies which make up the Building Stronger Communities Partnership, including Greater Manchester Police, Wigan Council, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, Wigan and Leigh Housing and many others.

Supt Andrea Jones of Greater Manchester Police, Wigan Division, said: “Having an instantly recognisable name is a type of short-cut.

“It helps avoid any potential confusion and ensures we all know exactly what the campaign is about, what we’re trying to achieve and who we’re targeting.

“By making sure we’re all talking from the same page makes it easier for us to get consistent messages out to the public.”

Every year, partners co-ordinate and plan activity around seasonal crime risks, targeting shared resources to tackle the predicted rise in issues such as anti-social behaviour, off-road motor vehicle nuisance, insecure burglaries, alcohol-related criminal disorder and theft.

And care is taken to ensure most of out annual operations are appropriately badged. Take for instance one of the most recent partnership campaigns.

“Given the popularity of our favourite seasonal toffee treat, it probably comes as no surprise that the campaign which targets anti-social behaviour around Bonfire Night is called Operation Treacle,” said Steve Sheridan, Wigan Borough Commander of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue, the agency which leads on the annual campaign.

“It’s a busy time for fire, police and ambulance crews. We work around the clock with partners in the council, housing and leisure services to ensure young people stay out of trouble, and even more importantly, out of danger.”

This year, there was a marginal increase in ASB incidents during the Treacle period compared to last year – but by less than one per cent.

However, when breaking down ASB by type, there were significant reductions in firework-related incidents this year compared to 2010 (down by 18 per cent), with notable improvements in Leigh West, Tyldesley and Atherleigh.

Mr Sheridan added: “Unfortunately, there are still a small number of people who think it’s funny to make hoax calls to the emergency services.

“Over the Treacle period this year, hoax calls rose by almost 20 per cent so we’ll be focusing on this during next year’s campaign. Making hoax calls puts lives at risk – people in your community, in your neighbourhood, in your family.”

In any partnership, striking the right balance is crucially important.

For instance, partners are keen to reassure local residents about their combined efforts to address anti-social behaviour in their communities.

But they are equally mindful that this shouldn’t be done in a way that demonises young people, who are often unfairly held responsible for committing anti-social behaviour when in fact the bulk is carried out by adults.

Operation Staysafe is an example of agencies pulling together to educate young people about the risks associated with alcohol while providing a visible and reassuring on-street presence to local residents.

As part of Staysafe, youth workers from the council’s early intervention and prevention team join volunteers and police officers, targeting areas popular with young people or hot spots where there have been reported issues of anti-social behaviour.

Whilst officers will challenge inappropriate behaviour and confiscate alcohol from under-age drinkers, their priority is to ensure that any young person found under the influence and in a vulnerable state is taken home or to a place of safety.

Coun Kevin Anderson, cabinet portfolio holder for neighbourhoods and the environment, said: “Operation Staysafe acts as a simple but effective ‘off the shelf’ tool which can be rolled out to address the heightened risk of ASB at specific times, such as the last day of school term, Mischief Night or Mad Friday.

“After running Operation Staysafe several times this year, we’ve been hugely encouraged to learn that fewer and fewer young people are being found in possession of alcohol and there have been no incidents of ASB.

“Most young people are just out with their mates, hanging out in numbers for personal safety.”

It is one of the many partnership measures aimed at combating anti-social behaviour which has contributed to the overall reduction in incidents across the borough.

Figures this year have fallen by 12 per cent compared to the same period last year from a reported 17,551 incidents in 2010 to 15,494 in 2011.

Other campaigns include Operation Target – which urges residents affected by the nuisance of off-road motor vehicle to Take Action, Report it, GET it sorted.

Cross-partnership initiatives across recent summer periods have led to significant reductions in the number of incidents across the borough.

Comparing figures between April 1 and July 14 in 2011 to the same period in 2010, there were 78 fewer incidents, from 398 down to 320 – a cut of 20 per cent.

Operation Windburn is a joint campaign which aims to address anti-social behaviour in Mesnes Park over the summer break.

Previously recognised at national level as an example of best practice, the campaign this year achieved further significant reductions in complaints of ASB by local residents adjacent to the park.

Comparing 2009 with 2011, there was a 40 per cent drop in reported incidents of ASB, including falls in street drinking and hoax calls to the emergency services.

But in spite of efforts to challenge their indisputable talent in taxonomy, it’s definitely the boys and girls in blue who lead the way in this highly specialist area.

And as one might expect, most of the operation codenames chosen by Greater Manchester Police don’t pull any punches.

Supt Jones said: “There’s Operation Storm which regularly sweeps across the borough, flushing out burglars, thieves and drug-dealers. Operation Dominator, a bold challenge to late night revellers and Operation Lockdown, a campaign aimed at keeping troublemakers out of night spots.”

But then again there are also the occasional mavericks... Last year’s pre-Christmas crackdown on theft, shop-lifting and pick pocketing in Wigan town centre, Operation Mildura, was named after a regional city in North-western Victoria in Australia – far removed from George Formby’s birthplace!

This year, the far more appropriate name, Operation Reindeer, has been coined to describe the campaign to keep our town centre safe and secure over the festive period.

Whereas other off-beat operation names from Greater Manchester Police in the past have included Operations Galileo, Tinsel and Buttermilk.

Residents can report anti-social behaviour to Greater Manchester Police in confidence on the new non-emergency police number 101 or by calling Wigan Council’s ASB hotline on 01942 404364.