Inside the police operation that has led to 3000 arrests in Norfolk
- Credit: Chris Bishop
Norfolk police's operation Moonshot has helped lead to more than 3,000 arrests in the county over the past 5 years by using roadside camera data to spot people potentially breaking the law. Chris Bishop joined the team to find out more.
As a suspected drink driver heads up the A10 towards King's Lynn, police already have him on their radar.
His battered estate car has passed an ANPR camera, which has alerted the Operation Moonshot team he's on their manor.
Sgt Dan Edwards and his partner PC Henderson plot up in a layby and scan the oncoming traffic through the rain until they spot their man heading straight towards them.
The patrol car does a U-turn in a blare of lights and sirens. Traffic pulls aside to let the good guys through.
As we round a bend and start gaining on him, the estate's driver spots us, indicates and pulls over. As officers pull on their hats and hi-vis, things are about to get a little more interesting.
The man, aged in his 30s, passes a breath test. Then officers find he has no insurance. Then there is confusion over whether or not he has a licence.
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"I was disqualified but that was two or three years ago," the man pleads. "I'm not now."
He's going to get his car seized either way. Then more information comes in and Sgt Edwards is reaching for his handcuffs.
The man is wanted after failing to appear on a drink drive charge and various other matters. So he's off to King's Lynn police station to await the next available court.
And his car's off to the pound on the back of a recovery truck as Operation Moonshot claims another scalp.
The two officers were in business soon after leaving Downham Market police station. A van with a dodgy tail light was flagged by the system as having form for Class B drugs so they pulled him over.
Relief etched across his face, the man was on his way again 10 minutes later after a roadside drug test came back negative.
Another suspected drink driver was pulled over on the A47 on the outskirts of Wisbech. This time he was sober, but he ended up with a ticket for driving without due care and attention after failing to spot the marked police car following him on blues and twos for more than five miles.
"We work off pro-active intelligence," said Sgt Edwards, who's been on Moonshot since it was first set up in West Norfolk just over five years ago. "We also do a lot off our own noses.
"We're out every day, we know our patch, we know our nominals, we know our problem areas."
Moonshot was so successful it became a permanent team, while the tactics were rolled out across the county. Since then it has clocked up more than 3,250 arrests, seized 2,900 vehicles, clocked up 344 years of sentencing, recovered property worth £1,316,140 and seized drugs worth £1,410,601.
Today's key target is a disqualified driver who has taken to the road again. He ended up jailed after leading them on a chase down the A47 three years ago.
It isn't long before he's caught on camera and arrested at a Tesco filling station on the outskirts of King's Lynn. They do say every little helps.
Four units attend, as the man has failed to stop before and Sgt Edwards wants to avoid another chase.
"I hate to tell you how man disqualified drivers we've dealt with in the five and a half years hut it's horrendous," said Sgt Edwards. "These are the people putting other people at risk."
Not everyone stopped by the team gets a free ride in a police car.
In Upwell, they pull over a car which has no MOT. The driver is allowed to go on his way with a warning.
Another car is pulled over because it is being driven by a male while its registered keeper is female. All checks out and the man resumes his journey.
Sgt Edwards likens the job to fishing, as we pull back onto the road . You never know what you're going to catch next.
How Operation Moonshot has grown and grown
A pioneering policing team has made more than 3,000 arrests from analysing data from roadside cameras since it was set up five years ago. And the arm of the law is set to get even longer.
Operation Moonshot was first trialled on the roads around King's Lynn, with officers seconded from other teams to act on data analysed from roadside cameras.
Now Moonshot is set to link into other forces, so it can access their day-to-day data too.
Project manager Darren Hopson said the team out on the road was backed up by powerful technology.
"You don't just sit by the cameras and wait," he said. "There's a bigger intelligence picture that sits behind this. You have to look at the data the cameras have given us.
"Put a circle around anywhere, a four mile radius circle. A week's worth of data might might be 18,000 - 19,000 vehicle records
"Remove the duplication and you might be left with 8,000. We can automatically put that 8,000 through our intel system for any linked to crime or outstanding offences."
A string of burglaries or similar crimes in a particular area will see a similar data sweep. Anyone with form for thieving who was clocked by the cameras can expect a visit.
Moonshot is aimed squarely at the hard core of so-called nominals, known offenders or persons of interest because they are known or suspected of being linked to crime.
"We're local officers," said Sgt Dan Edwards from the Moonshot team. "We know our patch, we know our people, we know our nominals.
"Anything at all we come across we're stopping and sticking our noses in, which is what we're paid to do."
Sgt Edwards said the new link meant Norfolk officers out on patrol could access other forces' routine flags placed as markers on the system against suspect vehicles, or see where they have been.
"Once the new system's fully up and running it opens opportunities for us," he said. "It makes things a lot easier."