Divis Hoods: United effort to halt west Belfast gang threatening to 'wreck the place'
Police and residents have joined forces to try and stop a notorious car crime gang from taking over the streets of west Belfast over New Year.
Following a series of public threats by gang members that they were going to "wreck the place" police have increased their patrols in areas frequented by the Divis Hoods crime gang.
Police have attempted to reassure residents that there will be no repeat of last Christmas when the gang took over the Falls Road while on a joyriding rampage.
However, gang members have taken to social media to boast about their Christmas crime spree plans. In recent days they also posted photographs of swords and a replica gun, sparking fears of the danger they pose to the public.
One gang member wrote on Facebook that he could not wait until Christmas so that the Divis Hoods could "wreck the place".
Another said he wanted police vehicles "smashed up".
West Belfast councillor Colin Keenan said that the PSNI had reassured residents they would have a sustained presence in the area during the Christmas period.
"There is a lot of concern in the area that this gang is just going to go on a rampage. While we are pleased that the police are going to increase patrols and put additional resources in place, this cannot be a short-lived policing campaign," said Mr Keenan.
The SDLP man added: "Most of these gang members have bail conditions attached to them and the well-known offenders will be under the watchful eye of police. The problem is, they don't seem to care about getting caught.
"It is all just fun to them, while it is causing misery in the local area."
The gang is responsible for the large number of joyriding incidents in the west Belfast area, where stolen cars are driven dangerously through the streets before being abandoned, smashed up or burnt out.
Members have also been implicated in a number of carjackings in the city.
A police operation - Operation Galleas - was launched at the start of the month to crack down on the rise in carjackings and related car crime.
In the last year there were more than 2,200 car thefts or related car crimes across Belfast - more than 40 a week. Around 80 of these crimes were hijackings.
"It is not just car crime that they are into, though. They are burgling houses, mugging people on the streets, smashing up people's homes, you name it and they are doing it," a community worker said.
"They are all kids, but they are putting the fear in everyone else. The whole thing is just a mess. Nobody seems to be able to stop these kids."
A major police clampdown on the thugs in 2012 seemed to have largely stamped out the opportunist crimes.
But a new spate of hijackings, mostly targeting vehicles of women and young people, has given rise to deep concern. In recent weeks police have seen a spike in activity from car thieves and so-called joyriders.
Earlier this month Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers said he feared somebody could be killed if the spate of car crimes wasn't stubbed out. "These hijackers wouldn't think twice about pulling a knife or a gun, so that is a big concern," he warned.