A SPECIALIST neighbourhood task force has disrupted organised crime gangs, found offenders hiding from justice and taken weapons off the street in its first two months.

Sgt Scott Boast said the Pendle and Ribble Valley neighbourhood policing taskforce, the team formed to tackle specific priorities such as organised crime groups, burglars, drug dealers, cross-border crooks, the sexual and criminal exploitation of children and wanted offenders, has already got criminals in the area on edge.

And with the team focusing on those policing priorities, Sgt Boast said it has allowed the core team of geographical area-focused neighbourhood officers to concentrate their efforts on community priorities, such as tackling anti-social behaviours and speeding vehicles.

Sgt Boast said the success of the two-tier neighbourhood model – separating ownership of policing and community priorities – has lead to an increase in public confidence and ultimately a rise in people coming forward to report crimes.

He said: “It’s made a massive difference. It’s not only made a massive difference to my officers but to the safety of the people of Pendle and the Ribble Valley.

“When you go into Nelson and Brierfield all the young lads who we have had dealings with in the past are talking about the task force and asking if those specific officers are part of it. They are genuinely looking over their shoulder. The criminals are worried about the police and seeing our presence on the streets more than they have been.

“Our use of stop and search powers has gone through the roof. The team have arrested lads recently who are previously unknown to us but they were carrying some really dangerous weapons, one with a knuckle-duster, one with a machete, one with a crossbow and one with an imitation firearm. This potentially saves lives.

“We are getting more information in. We are building that confidence for people to ring us or stop us on the street and say we have got an issue or we think X, Y and Z are drug-dealing.”

As well as seizing weapons, the task force has found a wanted man hiding under the floorboards at his girlfriend’s house, shut down a cannabis farm, taken £3,000 cash off a suspected gang member, and charged a man in connection with burglaries at a business.

Officers also visited schools, mosques and teenagers linked to anti-social behaviour on Bonfire Night, resulting in an unprecedented low number of firework nuisance complaints.