Viper taskforce strikes: One serious criminal nabbed every day in gang blitz

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Victoria’s anti-gang police squad has arrested one serious criminal a day, taken dozens of guns off the streets and stripped organised crime syndicates of more than $1.4 million in cash since its creation last year.

Police launched the Viper taskforce in July last year after a series of shootings across metropolitan Melbourne stoked fears a gangland war was about to break out.

Acting Commissioner Bob Hill (centre) and Detective Inspector Michael Daly and Viper officers.Credit: Jason South

Since then, the 80-strong elite unit has uncovered almost 120 prohibited weapons, seized 81 guns and imitation firearms and charged 342 people with drugs, firearms, weapons, and proceeds of crime offences.

Among Viper’s recent successes was an operation to dismantle a syndicate suspected of trafficking steroids through the mail that led to the discovery in May of a sophisticated clandestine laboratory and more than 80 kilograms of chemicals used to manufacture drugs.

The seizure came a month after officers arrested eight people and uncovered large amounts of cash and $700,000 worth of cannabis as part of an investigation into Albanian organised crime networks in Melbourne.

Viper officers have also been involved in the arrest of suspected street gangsters, operations targeting organised motorbike gang members and an investigation into Asian crime groups trafficking cannabis, methamphetamine, and MDMA.

Officers have also been deployed to regional areas across the state more than 80 times to enforce firearm prohibition orders and execute search warrants.

Acting Deputy Commissioner Bob Hill said the creation of the unit was one of the most significant moves against organised crime syndicates in the history of the force.

Hill said the unit had shifted the mindset of criminals in regional Victoria, who previously thought they could operate undetected by specialist police units based in metropolitan Melbourne.

“Viper is now a fundamental part of our business model to tackle serious and organised crime,” Hill said.

“Over the past 12 months, the Viper taskforce has deployed to all parts of metropolitan Melbourne and rural Victoria where our members are regularly being told by criminal targets, ‘We were wondering when you might show up’.”

The taskforce was conceived in 2020 by Detective Senior Sergeant Leigh Howse, who wanted to create a unit capable of deploying to any part of the state at short notice.

Viper was shelved for more than a year due to the pandemic but brought back in the first half of 2022 after the attempted daylight murder of professional kickboxer and former bikie Suleiman “Sam” Abdulrahim.

Known by his ring name The Punisher, Abdulrahim was shot multiple times in the chest as he left a funeral in his car. The two suspected gunmen fled Australia for the Middle East within hours of the botched hit and have never been arrested.

Barely a month after its creation, Viper officers arrested three men suspected of having links to street gangs after a stabbing during a fight at a Dandenong shopping centre in August last year that left the victim fighting for his life.

Four months later, the taskforce cracked down on a street gang advertising cocaine for sale on social media, by swooping on two properties in Melbourne’s south-east and charging six people with weapons and drug offences.

Suspected gang members were allegedly found with two loaded handguns, ammunition, a taser, an extendable baton, knuckle dusters, cash believed to be proceeds of crime, cannabis, and cocaine.

The taskforce utilises the resources from several police units, including highway patrols and experts from the criminal proceeds and drug squads, to strike the criminal networks from multiple fronts.

“The Viper model is agile and dynamic – it involves the deployment of a broad range of specialist policing units, operating alongside one another to critically target known criminal groups,” Hill said.

“That’s the beauty of Viper – our policing practitioners will collaborate and identify every opportunity to target criminals through a variety of investigative options.”

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