Text messages were sent to hundreds of suspected drug users and three drug deal lines believed to be operating in the Avon and Somerset area last week.
The messages were part of a week of action targeting county lines drug gangs co-ordinated by the National County Lines Coordination Centre.
‘County lines’ is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs out of bigger cities into one or more smaller towns in the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other form of ‘deal line’.
The text messages directed 600 users to support agencies while also making dealers aware we knew what they were using the phone number for.
In response, we received a number of calls requesting help or providing us with information – including one call from the family of a potential drugs runner believed to be being used to sell drugs from London.
In addition, Avon and Somerset officers also visited 157 properties during the week which were thought to have either previously been cuckooed or were believed to be at risk of being cuckooed in the future.
‘Cuckooing’ is the term used for when drug dealers use violence, exploitation and intimidation to take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for drug dealing.
During the visits our officers spoke to 173 adults considered vulnerable and potentially at risk of being exploited by dealers. Safeguarding measures were also put in place for three children aged four, five, and 15 respectively.
A number of warrants were also executed at properties linked to drugs, resulting in the arrests of 13 men and five women. Nearly £2,000 in cash was seized during this enforcement action along with dozens of wraps of drugs, three knives, 17 mobile phones, three tablet devices and multiple sim cards.
Meanwhile, talks were also given to schools in Taunton, a Neighbourhood Watch group in Wells and staff at a youth centre in Glastonbury to raise awareness of county lines.
Avon and Somerset officers also worked closely with British Transport Police colleagues in an operation at Bath Spa Train Station which saw an airport-style metal detector used.
Detective Chief Inspector Kerry Paterson, force lead for county lines, said: “We are determined to do everything we can to disrupt and catch those who seek to exploit vulnerable people to sell drugs.
“We know the majority of people who get involved in county lines are expertly groomed and the text messages we sent out were designed specifically to highlight to those who may feel trapped, that there are people who can help them.
“At the same time, the texts make it extremely clear to those using the phone to sell drugs that we are seeking to disrupt their dealing and identify who they are.”
DCI Paterson added: “It is important that everybody recognises the signs of drug activity and exploitation of vulnerable people. If you have any information about people you believe are involved in drugs, either as victims or perpetrators, please let us know. We will assess all intelligence received and take robust action where necessary.”
Detective Inspector Charlotte Tucker, Regional County Lines Co-ordinator at the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit (SW ROCU) said: “The results from last week’s operation to tackle county lines across the south west region are impressive. In total, 265 vulnerable addresses were visited by officers; 238 adults and 21 young people were all engaged with and referred for safeguarding where appropriate; 73 people were arrested; approximately £7000 worth of suspected class A drugs were seized, along with £85,000 in cash, 26 phones and £25,000 worth of designer goods suspected to have been bought from the proceeds of crime.
“What these results show is that when police forces work together and share information, we are able to really tighten our grip on those who cause so much harm to communities. County lines by its very nature is a crime that moves beyond police force borders and that’s why the NCLCC is working hard to co-ordinate the action taken to tackle it.”
Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “County Lines is not something we can ignore and Avon and Somerset officers have once again carried out excellent work to target organised criminals who are putting the most vulnerable in our communities at harm.
“I recently accompanied officers on welfare checks. It was clear that the individuals we visited were incredibly vulnerable due to past or existing habits. However, most of them welcomed the officers with open arms and felt reassured that being checked on by the police made them less attractive to being cuckooed. We must continue to disrupt county lines and stop those who want to exploit the most vulnerable for their own benefit.”