Bedfordshire Police has been handed its biggest ever grant funding pot to take the fight to criminal gangs and organised crime groups in the county.
Ministers have awarded the force more than £7 million in special grant funding to respond to the extraordinary challenges posed locally by organised crime.
The latest money comes in two batches of around £3.6 million.
One grant will pay for the force to run Operation Costello, its biggest ever operation to tackle organised crime, over two years.
The second grant will cover the cost of Bedfordshire Police’s Boson guns and gangs team, which has benefitted from direct government funding for a number of years.
Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “We are committed to tackling organised crime across our country – protecting the public is one of our top priorities.
“I’m delighted that we have been able to provide Bedfordshire Police Force with more than £7 million in special grant funding to support the force in their tireless work to cut organised crime in their area.
“We’ll continue to support our police forces to protect our streets and make communities across the country safer.”
Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye said: “This is a major funding boost for all our communities in Bedfordshire and I am delighted to see this level of investment coming into our county.
“The key thing is this investment is being seen at all levels of a comprehensive response to tackling violence, exploitation and organised crime.
“Policing is getting the tools and resources it needs to tackle the big players involved in things like drug importation and weapons trafficking, as well as the gangs which often act as a gateway for young people into a world of criminal exploitation.
“But I remain adamant that while this funding is welcome and hugely needed, we cannot arrest our way out of this problem, nor can the current core funding arrangement continue.
“That’s why at the national level, I continue to engage with the Home Office on resolving the outdated funding formula for Bedfordshire, and at the local level – my office continues to fund prevention and early intervention projects to address things like domestic abuse, drugs and alcohol addiction, as well as other known causes of criminality.”
Operation Costello will see the force recruit an entire new team to carry out investigations into criminal gangs identified under the national Operation Venetic, where international law enforcement cracked an encrypted communications network used by organised crime.
Some 10 per cent of the firearms seized across the country in the first phase of Operation Venetic were seized in Luton.
Under Operation Costello 50 people have already been arrested and almost 100 warrants carried out, with nearly 100 kilos of Class A drugs and more than £1 million in assets seized in Luton by Bedfordshire Police and the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit.
Meanwhile, Boson played an instrumental role in Bedfordshire Police seizing record amounts of illegal drugs over the past 12 months.
The unit runs proactive patrols in areas targeted by gangs and drug dealers, while the team’s investigation into a shooting in Luton recently featured on 24 Hours in Police Custody.
Boson also plays a leading role in prevention, working with different agencies to safeguard young people at risk.
Both grants cover 85 per cent of the costs bid for by the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Bedfordshire Police Chief Constable Garry Forsyth said: “There is a whole range of research and statistics that demonstrate the stark challenge we face here in Bedfordshire from gang violence, exploitation and organised crime.
“Yet for so long we have been fighting these challenges with one hand tied behind our back, with the funding formula failing to recognise the seriousness, volume and complexity of threat in our force area.
“We have argued this case repeatedly to ministers for a number of years and it is really pleasing to see this level of funding come into policing in Bedfordshire, after similar successes in the recent past.
“However, we will continue to argue for a longer term and more sustainable funding solution for us here in Bedfordshire, so we can continue this work over a number of years and really eradicate the systemic criminal networks operating in our county.”
Recorded incidents of serious youth violence fell by 24 per cent in Bedfordshire in the 12 months to April 2021 compared to the same timeframe to April 2019.
While police say the pandemic has played a big part in a drop of this scale, serious youth violence had reduced significantly year-on-year just prior to the first national lockdown, after a number of investments by government.
Ministers had already pledged £2.1 million to cover 85 per cent of the costs to Bedfordshire Police for running the first year of Operation Costello in 2020/21, in addition to the £3.6 million of funding over two years announced today.
The £3.6 million for Boson is the fourth special grant the unit has been given, following on from previous grants of £4.571 million, £3 million and £2.9 million respectively.
Bedfordshire Police is one of 18 police forces to be given ‘grip’ funding to tackle serious youth violence, which used to be known as surge funding. This year Bedfordshire has been awarded £559,000, with previous awards of £1.38 million and £908,000 respectively.
Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) has been awarded grants of £880,000 for the past three years, with the VERU working directly with young people at risk, funding community projects as well as coordinating the response to these issues between different agencies and communities.