Morning raids were carried out in Leeds this week as part of an ongoing operation which has already stopped an estimated £800,000 worth of the drug spice from reaching the streets.
It comes ahead of a meeting on Wednesday at which councillors will hear about the formation of a new Street Support Team dedicated to helping homeless people, rough sleepers, beggars and spice users who have become a growing presence in the city centre.
Like many other towns and cities in Yorkshire and beyond, Leeds has seen an increase in the number of people taking spice, a form of synthetic cannabis, but more potent with dangerous side effects, out on the streets.
A report to the council’s executive members sets out concerns surrounding a cohort of 200 active ‘street users’, many of whom who are linked to anti-social behaviour and crime but are also vulnerable to becoming victims themselves because of mental health issues and addictions.
It notes that spice-related calls to police have dramatically increased from around 16 last September to 66 in July this year.
The report says: “Leeds has witnessed a visible increase in the numbers of people on the street using a variety of substances including spice and, therefore, an increase in both medical incidents, many linked to the use of spice, and anti-social behaviour by those under the influence of the drug.”
While the support team plans have been taking shape, West Yorkshire Police has spent six months investigating those who bringing spice into the city.
Detective Inspector Phil Jackson, of Leeds Serious Organised Crime Unit team, said: “We’ve been doing this for probably six months and in that time we’ve recovered spice with a total estimated street value of around £800,000.
“When we’ve been down there doing our intelligence gathering work we’ve seen on some days three paramedics, ambulances, street triage teams all tied for hours on end. It’s endless.”
One terraced property in the Cross Green area was raided earlier this summer. It was found to be acting as a drug factory and five people were arrested.
Operation Damsondale continued on Thursday when a number of warrants were executed, this time in properties in Harehills and Gipton.
Four men and two women were arrested on suspicion of drug offences, with five being released but remaining under investigation as inquiries continue.
One of the men remained in custody last night after searches led to the discovery of two stun guns, one disguised as a torch.
The raids also resulted in the seizure of a spice worth £35,000, cannabis worth £5,000, around £5,000 in cash, five vehicles and suspected stolen goods.
Det Insp Jackson said: “Arresting the suppliers of spice will create a dent and stop some of the flow, but we’ve also got to think about the users and look at other ways to try and signpost them into rehabilitation and supported accommodation.”