ERSOU – tackling the scourge of serious
and organised crime in Eastern England
Last month, when a criminal network was convicted of smuggling millions of pounds of Class A drugs into the UK, it was the culmination of the biggest ever drugs conspiracy investigation in the history of the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU).
A staggering £4M of drugs was recovered from two shipments that were sent to a farm after being imported
from the Netherlands. The gang had attempted to conceal the drugs in boxes for plastic spider catchers as
well as disguising them in Jack Daniels packaging.
Four men from the Criminal network were jailed for a total of 50 years last month sending out a clear message
to the public that drug importation remains a major priority for UK policing. It was an impressive coup for
ERSOU and was a very public declaration of how focused the team is on disrupting major criminal activity in
ERSOU is one of ten ROCUs that was established a decade ago with the remit of doing exactly that
- identifying and disrupting organised criminals operating across the region. Central to its success is close
working relationships with the National Crime Agency and the Border Force at a national level, other ROCUs
on a regional level and police forces on a local level.
The ERSOU drug investigation is a stark example of the fact that most local organised crime activity has a
strong national and international element, making this collaborative approach essential to the overall success
of its work.
ERSOU is made up of a regional organised crime unit (ROCU) and a counter terrorism policing unit (CTP) and
carries out investigations on behalf of seven police forces in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex,
Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk and Suffolk.
It is unique in that it includes the more rural areas of Norfolk and Suffolk and Cambridgeshire as well as the
more urban areas such as Bedfordshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, and Kent which all border London.
Due to its proximity to London, it suffers an overspill of criminality from the capital, including County Lines
criminals who travel from London to the Eastern region to deal drugs and intimidate communities.
Stansted Airport and Luton Airport are based in the region as well as several major ports such as Dover and
Felixstowe – providing criminals with a gateway to enter the UK to commit their criminality.
Behind the headlines is a dedicated cadre of investigators and police staff who work at the highest level to
tackle the scourge of serious and organised crime.
Officers and staff in the unit tackle a range of crime – from online child sexual exploitation and modern
slavery to drugs guns, county lines, financial crime and cybercrime.
Its counter terrorism policing unit aims to manage the threat of terrorism across the eastern region, which is part of the counter terrorism policing national network. It has officers covering all four areas of the Government’s CONTEST strategy of Protect, Prepare, Prevent, and Pursue.
ACC Dan Vajzovic has the job of heading ERSOU and he admits he ‘couldn’t be prouder’ to hold the coveted position. He brings 23 years’ experience in policing to the role having previously worked in many roles including in joint protective services in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire before taking the top job at ERSOU in November last year.
Speaking to the Investigator, ACC Vajzonic describes his job as a
‘really fun and challenging role.’
‘We are proud of the fact we have got some absolutely fantastic staff
and officers who are dealing with some of the most serious offences
that we face in the UK,’ he explained.
‘Our vision is to protect the public from the threat of serious and
organised crime and terrorism across the region. Whilst people might
think of the eastern region as a relatively affluent and safe region
which indeed it is – it’s also not without its challenges.’
This was borne out recently when ERSOU played at active role in
Operation Venetic, a National Crime Agency-led operation that saw
investigators infiltrate the secure message system Encrochat that
was exclusively used by organised crime gangs to carry out their
illegal activity. As a result of this disruption, the NCA in conjunction
with the ROCUs managed to uncover a huge amount of illegal
activity that was being planned and orchestrated via Enchrochat.
The NCA also managed to close down Enchrochat. in a bid to thwart any future crime.
ERSOU played its part in Venetic to the full and succeeded in recovering a haul of drugs, firearms and cash.
The official breakdown of results includes:
£2,926,640 in cash seized
393kg cocaine seized (at the moment it works out value at £40k per kilo)
21kg heroin seized
80.5 kg synthetics (MDMA/Amphetamine etc) seized
10 firearms seized
229 rounds ammunition seized
In one such investigation as part of Operation Venetic, a Kent man who stashed £630,000
of cash in supermarket and sports bags at his Dartford home was jailed for two years for
money laundering following a detailed investigation.
ERSOU officers worked with colleagues from Kent Police to bring him to justice. While
searching his house, investigators not only discovered the cash, they also found an
Enchrochat phone which contained conversations arranging meetings using secret verbal
passwords, discussions and pictures of the hoarded cash.
Whilst collaboration with national organisations such as the NCA is a vital part of the work
of ERSOU, ACC Vajzonic also highlights just how important the interplay between ROCUs
and local forces is in tackling the threat or serious and organised crime.
‘One of the really significant strengths of UK policing is that we are very connected to our
local communities and the legitimacy of the policing is absolutely paramount,’ he explained.
‘I think it’s really important that the ROCU network is connected very strongly to its forces
to make sure we are serving the communities of our region.
‘One of the strengths of the Eastern Region is that the seven forces are roughly the same
size, which helps ensure each force feels it is getting value from ERSOU and that it’s not focusing all of its attention on one particular area.
‘We need to constantly ensure we are maintaining that legitimacy locally with all communities in the seven forces and that no particular force takes precedence.’
ERSOU enjoys a close working relationship with the seven forces and has a clear remit that compliments the local effort.
ERSOU comprises a diverse workforce of experienced police investigators as well as
experts from cyber security and the financial world.
In terms of its crime priorities, it deals with a wide remit of financial crime including fraud
offences, cyber crime and online child sexual abuse. It was a national pilot for the National
Police Chief’s Council enhanced online undercover capability and considers the
safeguarding of children and other vulnerable people to be an integral part of its role.
Every month, the police service nationally arrest more than 500 people for child sex abuse
and protects more than 700 children from harm.
The current pandemic has proved challenging for ERSOU and the wider UK police service,
but it has also has changed working practices for ERSOU staff which are positive.
ACC Vajzonic says that many staff have been working from home on their investigations
and that this has proved successful for both staff and the organisation.
‘This has led us to develop a flexible employment model that’s about having the right people with the right skills in the right jobs without worrying about where they get the job done.’
‘Our teams have really pulled together during the pandemic and demonstrated a real resilience in challenging circumstances. They’ve continued to carry out surveillance operations and wider investigations and we as an organisation have demonstrated that we are a flexible employer. Thank you to all staff who have worked so hard during this testing time.’
ERSOU needs you! Current recruitment opportunities
ACC Vajzonic believes its vital to continue to develop that flexible employment model to continue to attract the best staff to the ROCU. There are a number of vacancies with ERSOU at present and he is inviting officers to come and join the team.
For current vacancies, go to: www.ersou.police.uk/vacancies/
ACC Dan Vajzovic
Cash recovered in Operation Venetic
Guns and ammunition recovered in Operation Venetic
Cocaine recovered in Operation Venetic
Cocaine recovered in Operation Venetic