A SURGE of intelligence-led operations has helped police net millions in 'gangster tax'.

Chief Superintendent Wayne Mawson, Area Commander of the north and east of Glasgow and East Dunbartonshire, says targeted police campaigns have helped his team freeze or seize more than £2.6 million worth of assets, including cars, houses and cash, from organised criminals and gangs since April.

The claim comes during the first month of Operation Myriad, a six-month attack on criminal gangs, thugs and anti-social behaviour throughout the whole of the Strathclyde Police area.

As revealed in the Evening Times, the campaign kicked off last week in B Division, which runs from Maryhill in the north, to Baillieston and Easterhouse in the east and includes communities in East Dunbartonshire.

It is a roll-out of Operation Neptune, which was launched last year by Mr Mawson and ran again in April of this year.

Mr Mawson, who has been in charge of B Division for four years, said his team is on target to seize £4.5m, almost double the figure recorded four years ago.

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act (Poca), police can identify criminal assets, such as cars, homes or bank accounts, to be frozen or "restrained" by the courts whether their owners have been convicted of a crime or not.

It is then the job of Crown Office lawyers to confiscate these assets.

But police can also seize any cash sums of more than £1000 if suspects can't give a good reason for having the money.

Mr Mawson said: "Before I came here the amount of assets recovered from serious and organised criminals was fairly minimal. "This has taken away the gangs' ability to operate

"And we still have a lot of gang activity in the north of Glasgow."

He said the success of the seizure campaign was down to a surge in targeted police activity.

He said: "Through the whole of Neptune I've said to all my staff: 'Think Poca.'

"Every time they're in a house, or they're doing a road block, think: 'What are the Poca opportunities?'

"You've got to have £1000 before you can take it as likely to be from criminal activity if they can't give you a good explanation for it.

"But if officers are searching a car and they find a young lad who has £500 on him and his partner in the car has got £500, you can take it off them both."

He added: "There is probably no other division in the country that is performing around Poca the way we are. We see it as the way forward."

The police area's Poca target for 2011/12 was just under £2m but they managed to restrain or seize £2.5m.

The area's most recent successes include seizing £170,000 in criminal assets, on Friday September 28, and in the past month £13,230 in cash has been restrained and passed on to the Crown Office.

Mr Mawson said police campaigns helped to make Glasgow a "hostile territory" for gangs and criminals.

Since Operation Myriad launched last week, 53 people have been arrested or reported to the procurator fiscal for drugs offences, and another 169 people have been arrested or reported to the procurator fiscal for other offences.

He added: "With Neptune and now Myriad we have whole months of activity, but nothing ends after that month.

"It sets the tone for the rest of the year.

"Every one of my officers is thinking, what will we do next?

"It's a cultural change and Neptune is the trigger for that.

"Something of this scale has never been attempted before, ever."

Officers fighting organised crime at its highest level today stressed the importance of divisional Poca efforts.

Detective Chief Superintendent John Cuddihy said: "We are using Poca legislation to go after ill-gotten-gains.

"We think the community that has been blighted by organised crime should be the very community we should reinvest that Poca money in.

"When you get in to a taxi or use a bus that is owned by organised crime groups you are paying your fare to them. And you can bet they are not paying taxes."

The Scottish Government reinvests Poca money through a scheme called Cash for Communities. Last year in re-invested £10.5m.

rachel.loxton@ heraldandtimes.co.uk