IT IS 12.30am and the call comes over the radio that a suspicious-looking white van has been stopped by officers.
“We'll be there in two minutes,” says Det Insp Jim Griffiths.
I’m sitting in the detective inspector’s car after being given exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to a new police anti-burglary operation.
When we get to our destination, on Spring Bank at Liversedge, officers are asking two men in a Transit van they are driving around in the early hours of a Thursday morning.
The driver, who made an attempt to avoid being stopped, said they are on their way to pick up a friend.
There is good reason not to believe the story – both the men have criminal records for offences including burglary and theft.
A search of the van uncovers a crowbar in the back.
But one of the occupants runs a legitimate window-fitting business and claims it is a tool of the trade.
There is no evidence of any wrongdoing and no concrete grounds for arrest, so the van is allowed on its way home – with a police escort.
On this occasion no offence has been committed, but there is a fair chance that the officers may have prevented one from taking place.
And that is one of the objectives of Operation Tablecloth.
The confusingly-titled operation was set up to target burglars working in Kirklees hotspots following an alarming spike in car thefts.
In November police noticed a worrying trend developing. Burglars were using new techniques, which Det Insp Griffiths asked us not to mention, to gain access to houses in the small hours, search for car keys and then drive off in the owners’ cars.
Most of the offenders, working in gangs, were travelling into Kirklees from the Bradford area.
They were targeting well-to-do residential areas, like Lindley, that were within easy reach of the main roads back to Bradford.
Kirkburton had also been hit, it was believed by criminals from South Yorkshire.
Areas of north Kirklees that border Bradford, including Mirfield, Cleckheaton and Liversedge, had suffered heavily.
Operation Tablecloth involves a network of officers, some in plain cars, some in marked vehicles, working together to spot, stop and question suspicious looking vehicles.
Officers can travel a
combined distance of more than 1,000 miles a night patrolling the roads. And it is a seven-days-a-week operation.
Det Insp Griffiths said: “Our officers are using their knowledge of how criminals behave and instinct to spot anything that looks suspicious.
“Cars driving around in the early hours of the morning with three or four people inside, all young lads, stand out like a sore thumb.
“We are pretty well on top of local burglars, so this is designed to target those coming into the division from outside.”
Accompanying the detective inspector, it is clear to see how easy it is to spot those who may be up to no good. Other than taxis, lorries and milk floats, there are very few vehicles on the roads.
Det Insp Griffiths tells me the teams of thieves involved in the actual burglaries tend to be at the bottom of the criminal food chain.
They are generally younger men, paid a fee to do the dirty work of organised crime bosses who take the lion’s share of the money made from selling the cars on, or stripping them and exporting them.
Our next call, just after 1am, is to Turnsteads Avenue in Cleckheaton.
Officers have stopped two young men and a young woman walking a dog.
One of the men has a rucksack over his shoulder and is a known criminal. He is searched and one of the officers then finds a torch in a nearby garden which he suspects has been thrown over the wall.
Again, there is no evidence that they have been involved in criminal activity and they are escorted home.
At about 2am an uninsured car with four men inside is stopped. The driver, it is found, has 16 points on his licence. The car is confiscated and the occupants are driven home.
In relative terms it has been a quiet night for Operation Tablecloth.
But in the last four weeks alone, officers in Kirklees have made 24 arrests for burglary-related offences. Thirteen people have been charged with burglary and others bailed pending further enquiries.
Five people convicted of burglary offences as a direct result of the operation in the last two weeks have been given prison sentences totalling more than 15 years.
Det Insp Griffiths said: “Policing isn’t just about responding to situations when they happen. By instigating operations such as this, we hope to be on the front foot and put criminals on the back foot.”