THEY are bringing terror to the streets of Southampton.
Using guns and knives, drug dealers are battling to control the city – and with it has come a rise in serious violence.
Recent months have seen a spate of armed raiders smashing their way into homes to settle scores and collect debts.
Some innocent families have been caught up in the war as it spills over into the community.
Now Hampshire police have vowed to crack down on the pushers, telling them: “You’re not welcome – and if you come here we will make your life a misery.”
Today they are launching a £2m campaign waging war on drug peddlers who are choosing to do business in the city.
Officers arrived at Richmond Road in Shirley at around 8.45am, with members of the Force Support Unit who used a battering ram to get into the multi-occupancy house.
Concerned residents peered out of their windows and stood watching on their balconies opposite as the surprise raid got underway in their street.
Sniffer dogs and search teams are now inside the house, examining the scene and looking for evidence.
Backed by the Daily Echo, Operation Fortress aims to turn Southampton into a hostile place for dealers – as well as wipe out the serious violence that appears to go hand in hand.
During the past two years, although levels of violent crime have dropped in the city, police say there has been an alarming increase in drug-related violence – including shootings and multiple stabbings.
A significant number have involved young men known to be affiliated to gangs in London who have come to Southampton and carried out acts of extreme violence.
And it’s feared the problem could get worse in Southampton as officers in the capital begin targeted policing aimed at eradicating gang culture.
The city’s closeness to London, together with easy transport links, could make it more of a temptation to those who may be forced out of the capital.
A dedicated squad of 22 officers will form the Operation Fortress team, which will work with partner agencies and groups in the city, including Southampton City Council, over the next two years.
Residents can expect to see significant impact, from raids at the homes of those suspected to be involved, to the closure of crack houses where class A drugs are available.
Key transport routes, including road and rail, will also be central to the crackdown as officers take a zero tolerance approach.
Schoolchildren will also be made aware of Operation Fortress during educational visits while financial investigators will help ensure those caught trying to infiltrate the city are not enjoying a life of luxury from the misery of others.
It’s one of the biggest anti-crime initiatives ever undertaken by Hampshire police and could be used to tackle problems in other areas of the county if successful.
Detective Chief Inspector Kath Barnes, leading Operation Fortress, warned that police will be “relentless” in tackling individuals or groups who target Southampton.
She said: “We have seen significant violence in the past two years where there has been knives and firearms involved. We will not tolerate that on the streets of our city.
“We are absolutely determined that Southampton will remain a safe place to live and work and will not deteriorate in the way we have seen happen in other areas of the country.”
Detective Inspector Gary Towse said Operation Fortress had been created because there was an identified risk to Southampton.
He said: “We want to drive them out of the city and do everything in our power to deter others from coming here in the first place.
“If we don’t do anything then Southampton becomes easy ground. We will be focussed on enforcement – we’re in it for the long haul – as well as doing all that we can to restrict drugs supply in this city.”