TWO boys, one aged 15, the other only 12, stared blankly from the back of a cell in Easterhouse police station.

Hours earlier, they had been involved in one of the gang fights common in this part of Glasgow where ``territories'' are still fought over more than 30 years after they were drawn.

Ask a youth why he doesn't go to the Wellpark sports centre a few streets away and he says he'll get beaten up. It is alien territory so he would rather stand with his mates drinking in a bus shelter.

It is Saturday night. Police taking part in Operation Spotlight are concentrating on weeding out offensive weapons. The evening has hardly begun when D Division commander, Chief Superintendent Louis Munn, reveals that a ScottishPower worker has been stabbed in the face.

Minutes later, cruising in patrol vehicle Delta Zulu One, we are alerted to another gang battle. ``These can be very serious,'' said Mr Munn. ``You can find them hurling anything from bottles to pieces of concrete. There is a lot of fighting on the Queenslie footbridge over the M8 and my constant fear is that a brick comes over the bridge and goes through a car window.''

But since Operation Spotlight, the increased police presence and rapid response to incidents has dramatically reduced crime. In some parts of the sprawling housing estates, it has tumbled by up to 40%, largely as a result of stop and search patrols.

This weekend saw the largest number of officers to hit the streets since Spotlight began two months ago. Around 1500 full-time police officers and 100 special constables joined in the mammoth anti-crime operation, which lasted 58 hours.

They focused on several of the initiative's 12 targets, including the continuing crackdown on offensive weapons, under-age drinking and the sale of alcohol on licensed premises to juveniles.

The traffic unit also mounted road blocks throughout the force area to check for stolen goods and vehicles as well as carrying out breath tests.

Chief Superintendent Munn's domain covers some of the roughest areas in Britain. Covering 77 square miles, it stretches from Baillieston, north of the Edinburgh Road, across Easterhouse to Springburn, and north to Lennoxtown.

Although the officers are concentrating on seeking out weapons, individual patrols are briefed on specific problems, from pub and club trouble-spots to areas where there could be gang fights or attempted burglaries.

Spotlight's high-intensity policing has meant that the normal late shift has reached two and a half times its original strength by 11pm. Exact manpower figures are an operational secret.

Across the city, Inspector Richard Hughes and his team have set up a road block on the edge of Kirkintilloch. A powerful pursuit car sits a short distance away ready to give chase should a driver try to avoid the check.

Little, apart from a man with a tax disc four months out of date, is found on Saturday night. ``Five to 10 years ago, we would have pulled in several drunk drivers. There are none tonight, so it shows how attitudes have changed, but we still get youths carrying offensive weapons,'' said the inspector.

None was found on Saturday, but a few days earlier a car was searched and officers found a loaded .22 rifle. Even more dangerous weapons have been discovered in similar road blocks. ``You get youngsters going out for the night carrying weapons with them. They can be carrying knives or clubs or a piece of lead pipe,'' said Inspector Hughes, who added that many were often en route to a drugs transaction.

The drugs epidemic - there are an estimated 700 to 800 misusers in Springburn alone - has caused its own perils for officers who are in constant danger of being stabbed, either intentionally or accidentally, with a dirty needle.

A result is that D Division has become a centre of excellence in safety training for officers, attracting attention from forces throughout Britain.

Constable Martin Bryceland showed off the various categories of offensive weapons that police have removed from criminals. The categories ranged from ``made'' weapons such as swords and hunting knives to ``adapted'' weapons like broken bottles and ``intended'' weapons that include a sharpened axe, screw drivers, a lump of concrete and hypodermic needles.

Constable Bryceland, a safety training instructor, said: ``The most dangerous weapon a police officer is going to come up against is the needle.'' With five strains of hepatitis, police now have to be more vigilant during a stop and search.

``The majority of drug addicts will tell you if they are carrying a needle because they don't want to cause injury during a search. But even during a search, an officer could mistakenly stab himself with a hypodermic while looking for a weapon.''

Saturday night was quiet due to a combination of the bad weather, shortage of money before Christmas and the effectiveness of Operation Spotlight. By midnight, D Division has caught five drunk drivers, carried out 71 stop and searches, attended five breaches of the peace and caught one person with drugs. No offensive weapons were found.

``When you consider the area we have to cover, I am delighted with the result,'' said Mr Munn.

Back at Easterhouse police station, officers are suddenly dashing out in response to an ``officer requires assistance'' alert. It takes less than a minute to reach Conisborough Street. A disco is taking place above a row of iron-shuttered shops. Two youths outside are searched and then taken in - the second incident outside the disco that night. As the dancing goes on, police say they will inevitably be back there later.