Gun crime: How police in Leeds are responding to the illegal use of firearms

A police cordon in Hamilton Place, Chapeltown, following a shooting near Jackie Smart Court. Picture: James Hardisty
A police cordon in Hamilton Place, Chapeltown, following a shooting near Jackie Smart Court. Picture: James Hardisty

Shots fired at a car in the city centre, an armed robber threatening building society staff and a shooting outside a nightclub.

Ask people what ‘gun crime’ means and they might well think back to reports of these incidents from the past year.

A handgun recovered by police in Leeds.

A handgun recovered by police in Leeds.

But ask the police, as we’ve done in the fourth part of our series on gun and knife crime, and they’ll tell you that the chances of a law-abiding citizen becoming the victim of a firearms offence remain very low.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom, of West Yorkshire Police, said the illegal use of guns is generally linked to serious organised crime.

He said: “They’re using it to protect their criminality, specifically the profits which are in drugs, human trafficking, vice – those kinds of activity.”

Last year this became evident when Chief Superintendent Paul Money, the district commander for Leeds, confirmed that a series of gun-related incidents were connected to a feud between known criminals.

This is not innocent members of the public that people are taking potshots at. It’s about criminals that are warring against each other.

Detective Superintendent Lisa Atkinson, Head of Crime for Leeds

The feud is a factor in a likely rise in recorded gun crime in Leeds over the last 12 months, along with improved recording of offences of all kinds.

Police data shows there were 145 gun crimes in Leeds in 2015/16, with 116 in the first nine months of the latest year.

If offences have continued at that rate, the total for 2016/17 will stand at around 154 – a six per cent rise.

This includes injuries from firearms, damage to property, gunshots fired, threats made with a firearm and use of a firearm as a blunt instrument.

Detective Superintendent Lisa Atkinson, Head of Crime for the Leeds District.

Detective Superintendent Lisa Atkinson, Head of Crime for the Leeds District.

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Head of Crime for Leeds Detective Superintendent Lisa Atkinson said only eight of the 34 firearms injuries recorded in the year to March involved a rifle, shotgun or handgun.

“The others are very much a mix of tasers, stun guns, pepper spray – all the prohibited Section 5 firearms that are not what members of the public would view to be a firearm,” she said.

The eight injuries mean there were three more than 2015/16 when only five of the 43 firearms injuries recorded actually related to guns themselves.

“That’s down to a specific drug related issue,” Det Supt Atkinson said. “The drug turf war in Leeds that’s been tackled. We’ve made 15 more arrests around that issue.

“This is not innocent members of the public that people are taking potshots at. It’s about criminals that are warring against each other.”

Those 15 arrests contribute to a rise in firearms-related arrests in both Leeds and West Yorkshire, with the totals for 2016/17 up by 27 and 121 respectively.

Seizure of illegal firearms in West Yorkshire is also up, doubling from 22 in the first quarter of 2016 to 44 in 2017.

Mr Milsom said: “We are actively tracking criminals we believe are using firearms in the course of their criminality, we are arresting them and we are seizing guns from them.”

Det Supt Atkinson added: “There’s not been anything where we feel we’ve got gangs coming over. It’s been local.

“We understand the issues, which is why we’re able to make the arrests and tackle the threat.

There are two force-wide protective services teams – crime and operations – which at any time are usually running between four and six operations against criminals using firearms.

Leeds also has a serious and organised crime team working at city level to monitor and disrupt the activities of organised crime groups.

Mr Milsom said: “Criminals who are using firearms, we prioritise above others because they present more threat and risk.”

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