BRITAIN’S newest Chief Constable has vowed to hound criminals as he takes inspiration from the dogged pursuit of notorious gangster Al Capone.
Mike Barton took over the reins at Durham Constabulary last week and has already warned he will employ the same strong-arm tactics Elliot Ness and his team of Untouchables used to finally nail the gangster after his reign of terror in the 1920s.
Mr Barton, 55, says if he can’t collar them for the serious crimes, he’ll make sure they are arrested for lesser ones to get them off the streets – in the same way American police put Capone behind bars for tax evasion after failing to get him on other charges such as murder and extortion.
As part of his crackdown on the sort of illegal activity that blights neighbourhoods – such as burglary, robbery and theft – officers send known offenders birthday cards “from Durham Constabulary”.
Officers also knock on their doors and remind them they are being watched and even arrive with pictures taken of them on their way to or from crime scenes.
Mr Barton said: “We do not want to just investigate crime after it has happened, we investigate criminals.
“That sounds simple and obvious, but if you investigate the crime, the damage has already been done.
“We are significantly reducing crime rates by going after criminals actively. They are in our sights and we are going to destroy them.
“I want to make the message of crime-fighting straightforward. We talk about tackling criminals, I want them caught, arrested, to know we are watching them.
“We send them birthday cards, knock to say, ‘We are watching you’.
“We photograph them in their burgling clothes so we know what they look like, then we go and tell them.”
Mr Barton said one crime family sent a letter of complaint about the force’s tactics and he wrote back saying: “I am delighted as I now know my staff are doing what I told them to do.”
He added: “The officers blew it up, photocopied it and put it on the office wall. They knew they were getting my backing.
“If they are in the faces of the villains, then they need a pat of the back. Everyone knows who they are, so why not get after them?
“As a result of our openness, the public are much more likely to call us, or Crimestoppers, and be safe in their anonymity.”
The officer’s pro-active, pioneering approach to policing is becoming a model for other forces across the country. In one recent surveillance operation, a criminal family in his sights was stopped – regularly – for tread checks on their tyres.
Mr Barton, whose mantra is “crime statistics do not commit crimes, criminals do”, said: “Local people see it and think, ‘Good on you.’ My beat bobbies have speed cameras for them, not for any average motorist, but the very people we are after.
“It is the classic Al Capone approach. If you can’t get them for robbery, burglary, serious crime, get them on lesser offences.
“People who commit serious crime will also drive with no insurance, drive while using a mobile phone, speed. I tell my staff to get them for any or all of those crimes.
“We may not do them for tax evasion like Capone, but we will get them for anything we can.”
When he began work as Assistant Chief Constable four years ago, Mr Barton surprised staff by turning up at police stations in the middle of the night and asking desk sergeants one key question: “Who are the worst villains on your patch?”
They each came up with a list of the biggest offenders in their areas, which the boss then took away to produce a “crime map” on the wall of his office.
It carries photos of offenders, their records and on-going investigations. It took time to go around every station, probing each organised crime syndicate.
And then undercover surveillance provided photos of suspected gang members.
Communities are provided with details of the worst offenders, to demonstrate that police are on the look-out for all criminal activity.
One operation was called Sledgehammer to get the message across to organised crime gangs that they were being hunted.
Since Mr Barton began his crackdown in Durham crime syndicates have been hit for everything from dumping toxic waste to letting horses roam.
And the force works with partnership organisations, including councils, the Environment and Border Agencies, Customs and Excise, the National Crime Agency, and Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Mr Barton’s officers now contact businesses associated with criminal enterprises, warning them to stop dealing with the crooks.
In other instances, criminals feel the impact on their personal lives, again through work with partner agencies.
Mr Barton added: “We had a man selling guns. We showed social services the evidence and they took his children into care. His wife gave him hell, she knew then he was involved in criminal activity. He is still a bad man, but his children are safe.
“Part of my job is to make criminals’ lives a misery. Part of it is making them responsible for their actions and letting the people close to them know what they are doing.”
Another crime family grazed horses illegally. Mr Barton said: “We spirited the horses away in the dead of night. It costs £1,400 to get them back.
“We took 60 in all, then went back for the most valuable ones. All have now been rehomed, chipped and are safe.
“It puts pressure on the crime family to conform to the rules, like normal people.”
Mr Barton spent 28 years with Lancashire Police, rising to the rank of Detective Chief Superintendent.
Married to teacher Maggie and dad to Matthew, 32, a doctor, Rachel, 30, who works for the Environment Agency, and police support worker Hannah, 28, he has an evangelical passion for crime-fighting.
Since he arrived in Durham anti-social behaviour offences are down by more than a third, despite savage Government cuts which have seen 1,720 officers reduced to 1,370 and 1,100 support staff slashed to 900.
Mr Barton said: “I want to be Chief Constable of a just and fair organisation. It just so happens that with criminals it should be gloves off.
“I will do everything legal to stop them. It may be wacky, it may be unconventional, it may be unorthodox but if you do not try something different, you will get what you always got.”