POLICE have launched a new county-wide crackdown on rural crime including theft of metal, fuel and machinery.
Operation Gandalf will see a dedicated team of detectives taking a hard line on thieves who are targeting isolated and vulnerable locations.
They will work with officers from HM Revenue and Customs to target people stealing or using stolen diesel or heating oil, and with BT Openreach to reduce theft of underground cable.
Cambridgeshire officers are working with colleagues nationally and regionally to tackle metal theft. They are sharing tactics and intelligence with local forces including Essex, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Kent and working with scrap metal dealers in the county.
Churches can be particularly vulnerable with offenders targeting lead on their roofs and officers are working with them to improve security.
Theft of farm and plant machinery, tractors, trailers, horseboxes and batteries, as well as stack fires, will also be within the team’s remit.
The team, headed by Detective Inspector Donna Wass, will work closely with the force’s Rural Community Action Team (RCAT) and Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) team.
DI Wass said thieves and also the people handling and selling on the goods would be targeted.
She said: “We will be using covert and overt tactics to tackle thieves and those handling stolen goods and one of our aims will be to deny them use of the county’s roads.
“Those involved in metal theft range from people taking small amounts of metal to scrap yards by bicycle to those taking large amounts of mixed metals by lorry.
“Thieves often appear to be legitimate workmen so we would urge anyone who has any suspicions to contact police. They will often target isolated locations under cover of darkness so we would urge anyone who lives near a vulnerable site, such as a church, to be vigilant.”
In the 12 months from September last year to the end of August this year, there were 2,144 metal thefts (excluding cable theft) in the county compared 1867 for the preceding 12 months.
The rise in metal theft is believed to be caused by an increase in its value, driven by demand for raw materials from China.
Over the same periods heating oil fell from 163 to 138 crimes, while theft of red diesel fell from 166 to 163 crimes.
DI Wass added: “This type of crime is not victimless. We treat it very seriously because it costs victims in rural areas a lot of money and can cause severe disruption.
“We are determined to catch those responsible and bring them to justice but we need the help and support of the public.”
Anyone with information should contact police on 0345-4564564, or alternatively, if there is a crime in progress, 999.