Friday, April 19, 2024

State-first guns taskforce takes aim at gangs

A Victorian Police taskforce designed to fight serious and organised crime at all levels has averaged an arrest per day and seized in excess of 80 guns in the first 12 months of operation.

Unveiled on 4 July, 2022, the VIPER tactical unit – the first of its kind in Victoria – was launched as Victoria Police’s new approach in the fight against criminal entities with the flexibility to be deployed anywhere in the state at short notice.

In that time, the taskforce has conducted over 80 regional deployments to almost every corner of the state.

“This has been one of the most significant moves against organised crime syndicates in the history of Victoria Police and the results speak for themselves,” said Acting Deputy Commissioner Bob Hill, Public Safety and Security.

“VIPER is now a fundamental part of our business model to tackle serious and organised crime.

“We know that the presence of VIPER in regional areas has led to a change in the mindset of local criminals who previously thought they were out of reach of our specialist police units.”

The 80-strong innovative unit combines police from a wide range of specialist roles, including Public Order Response Team (PORT), State Highway Patrol, general duties, intelligence officers and detectives from a wide range of backgrounds, including the Armed Crime Squad, Homicide Squad, Echo Taskforce, Criminal Proceeds Squad, Major Drug Squad, Clandestine Laboratory, Gang Crime Squad and various others.

VIPER is an acronym for visibility, intelligence, prevention, enforcement and reassurance.

Using the unit’s diverse mix of specialist skills and experience, VIPER has processed 342 offenders and issued 1372 charges in its first year.

In the first 12 months of operation, VIPER has also:

  • Conducted more than 560 Firearm Prohibition Order searches and served a further 37;
  • Seized more than $1.4 million in cash;
  • Seized 81 firearms and imitation firearms, as well as 119 prohibited weapons;
  • Made over 789 seizures of illicit drugs of varying quantities and types, and
  • Intercepted in excess of 1700 vehicles and impounded 66.

With the workforce rotating in every six or 12 months, more than 160 members of Victoria Police have now donned the VIPER patch.

Utilising the highly diverse range of experience and expertise of members force wide allows for both proactive and reactive investigations which target organised crime from every angle and their every activity, Victoria Police said in a statement.

Notable operations and results from VIPER’s first year of operation include:

• In July 2022, VIPER executed a search warrant at a Dandenong South address as part of an investigation targeting associates of a high-profile serious and organised crime entity.

The search resulted in the seizure of $550,000 suspected to be the proceeds of crime and a quantity of ammunition.

• Also in July last year were two separate investigations targeting members of the Rebels OMCG and Comanchero OMCG who were subject to Firearm Prohibition Orders. Three men and one woman were charged with drugs, firearms and proceeds of crime offences.

• In August 2022, VIPER members were deployed to the Dandenong area following reports of an affray at a shopping centre. One male victim sustained life-threatening stab wounds. VIPER members arrested three men who had fled the scene who allegedly had links to recognised street gangs.

• In October 2022, the execution of two search warrants resulted in the seizure of a total of 11 items, including three firearms, an imported firearm barrel, ammunition, prohibited weapons, drugs and blueprints for manufacturing firearms. A man was charged with firearms, weapons and drug offences.

• In November 2022, an investigation targeting members of the Finks OMCG resulted in the service of seven FPOs and a further 16 searches. 12 offenders were processed for a range of offences.

• In December 2022, six offenders were charged with various firearms, drugs and weapons offences after an investigation into two persons of interest who were allegedly advertising illicit drugs for sale on social media. Two firearms were seized, alongside cocaine, cannabis, a baton, a conducted electricity device and knuckle dusters.

• In January 2023, VIPER deployed to Mildura, targeting members and associates of the Rebels OMCG. 10 FPO compliance searches were conducted, five search warrants were executed and 11 offenders were processed for a range of offences.

• In February, an investigation into Asian organised crime resulted in the seizure of cannabis, methylamphetamine and MDMA, five imitation firearms, $10k in cash and a variety of prohibited weapons.

• VIPER also deployed to the Geelong area for a week of action targeting OMCG members and associates. 51 FPO compliance searches were conducted, and forty offenders were processed.

• February was also a month of action targeting members and associates of the Hells Angels OMCG. 15 FPO searches were conducted, three FPOs were served and six offenders were processed.

• March 2023 saw a cross border operation in Albury and Wodonga with NSWPF’s Raptor Squad. 16 FPO compliance searches and ten warrants were executed, firearms, drugs, explosives and stolen goods were seized, and 18 were arrested for a range of criminal and road safety offences.

• In April 2023, eight offenders were arrested and 135kg of cannabis (with a street value of approx. $700k) and over $200k cash were seized following an investigation into Albanian organised crime.

• In May, a search warrant was executed following an investigation into the alleged trafficking of steroids through the mail. A sophisticated clandestine laboratory was located, and in excess of 80kg of liquid, powders, and chemicals (with an estimated street value of $500k) utilised in manufacturing illicit substances were seized.

The VIPER Taskforce is a tactical and investigative unit based within Crime Command focused on preventing, detecting, deterring, disrupting and dismantling the criminal activities of groups such as outlaw motorcycle gangs, organised crime networks and street gangs.

“Our regional police colleagues are now regularly supported by the VIPER taskforce and other Crime Command squads to disrupt and deter criminal activity,” said Acting Deputy Commissioner Hill.

“Over the past 12 months, the VIPER Taskforce has deployed to all parts of metropolitan Melbourne and rural Victoria where our members are regularly being told by criminal targets, ‘We were wondering when you might show up’.

“The VIPER model is agile and dynamic – it involves the deployment of a broad range of specialist policing units, operating alongside one another to clinically target known criminal groups.

“That is the beauty of VIPER – our policing practitioners will collaborate and identify every opportunity to target criminals through a variety of investigative options,” he said.

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