A policing team has won a council accolade for busting a chop shop selling stolen car parts worth more than half a million pounds.

Epping Forest's District Police Community Safety Team was named Community Service Team of the Year in Epping Forest District Council’s annual Civic Awards 2020.

The inaugural award recognises teams who make a difference in the community, and the officers were credited for seizing stolen property or criminal assets estimated to be in excess of £500,000 in the last year alone.

Sgt Neil Ross, PC Steve Bowering and PC Ben Keith, were also praised for their professionalism, integrity and determination.

The team was formed in July 2018 and is currently based at the Community Safety Hub in Ongar while renovation work is being carried out at Epping Forest District Council’s office in High Street, Epping.

Sgt Neil Ross, who works alongside PC Steve Bowering and PC Ben Keith, said: “Our work is really varied and focused on solving problems.

“We also use automatic number plate technology and intelligence we’ve gathered to target criminals travelling into and around the district. As a result, we’ve arrested a number of suspects for robberies and burglaries and located stolen vehicles.

The team work closely with Essex Police’s Stolen Vehicle Intelligence Unit, and together they identified a ‘chop shop’ in Navestock in June, where they found three stolen vans that are believed to have been stolen for their parts. Three men were arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods and remain under investigation.

The officers also carry out welfare checks on vulnerable people, such as those who are exploited by drug dealers who use their homes to sell drugs from. In one case in Waltham Abbey, they issued community protection warnings to a group of individuals who were using a vulnerable person’s home to deal drugs, and worked with the council to rehome and safeguard the victim.

The team regularly carries cross-border operations with teams in the Metropolitan Police to target criminals committing offences in Essex and on the borders with London.

Sgt Ross said: “We’ve developed really good working relationships with the council and police colleagues, as well as with Metropolitan Police officers who work in neighbouring boroughs.

“Working together to share information and tackle problems is crucial to finding long term solutions to issues.”

One example is a series of burglaries in January this year, when three homes in North Weald, Epping and Theydon Bois were broken into.

The team were tasked with carrying out patrols and during one of these patrols in North Weald, a 999 call was received reporting a break-in at a house nearby.

They responded and stopped a man matching the description of the suspect. He was arrested and subsequently charged by Loughton CID with three burglaries. He admitted the offences and was jailed for 45 months in February.

Sgt Ross, who was an officer in the Met Police before joining Essex ten years ago, said: “All three of us have a strong background in frontline policing and have a desire to effect change in the district.

“The team have built good relationships with council partners, breaking down communications barriers, sharing resources and intelligence.

“This allows us to really focus on the key issues affecting communities in Epping Forest.”

Councillor Holly Whitbread, Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities at Epping Forest District Council, said: “Police officers regularly support our council officers in carrying out their core duties, particularly if they present a risk of violence or intimidation.

“This includes working with our housing teams, planning and enforcement teams - in fact, any council services where policing expertise would be a benefit.

“This year the team was nominated for and won the Epping Forest District Council Community Service Team of the Year Award.”

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