Police officers have been told they should look among themselves and fellow government officials for 'black sheep' in their crusade against mafias and triads. The message was highlighted yesterday at a national conference for policemen in Yichang, Sichuan province, where officers discussed their priorities and strategies for the coming year. Although they largely disappeared in China after the People's Republic was founded in 1949, mafias and triads have reappeared with a vengeance over the past two decades. They often control villages, with some more powerful than the police. At the conference, officers were told that whether the problem could be brought under control hinged on their ability to smash 'protection umbrellas' - those officers and cadres who protect criminals. 'Next year, all police bodies must use the 'anti-triad campaign' as their key weapon,' Xinhua reported, 'especially in breaking through their connection network, smashing their 'protection umbrellas' in order to ensure this campaign can be carried out successfully.' While officers must step up their vigilance against all crimes, they should pay special attention to serious offences such as murder, robbery and kidnapping which have now become common features in newspapers and appear almost on a weekly basis. The police conference coincided with the continuing trials of 32 triad members from Wenling, Zhejiang province. According to Xinhua, the trial of Wang Xiufang who was described as 'number two leader' of a gang, started recently in Ningbo city. Led by Zhang Wei, the gang was alleged to have ruled the Wenling area for years, amassing hundreds of millions of yuan in cash and property. It was reported earlier that Zhang and his gang were only brought to justice after a group of retired cadres and laid-off workers risked their lives for years to expose them. The gang was described as 'untouchable' by locals in Wenling as it was protected by the local police chief Yang Weizhong and mayor Zhou Jianguo - both of whom were convicted earlier this year. The semi-official China News Service said courts in Ningbo would soon sentence Zhang and Wang.