Last week we visited 380 addresses where occupants are believed to be at risk from, or involved in, county lines. This activity marks the latest stage in our ongoing campaign against criminal gangs running drugs into local towns and villages. In the last year we have dismantled 21 county lines with the subsequent arrests of 45 people, the majority having already been charged with offences.
A National County Lines Intensification Week (11-17 October) led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) saw police across the country further step up their targeting of county lines operations. Here in Avon and Somerset, we undertook prevention and protection visits across the region, gathering intelligence and ensuring safeguarding and signposting to support for people deemed at risk of exploitation
County lines is a term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs out of bigger cities into smaller UK towns often using dedicated mobile phone lines or other ‘deal lines’.
Children, young people and vulnerable adults are recruited by county line gangs to move and store drugs and money, often exposing them to a world of coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons. Dealers may also take over the home of a vulnerable person as a base for drug dealing, a situation commonly referred to as “cuckooing”.
Using The Children’s Society’s #LookCloser campaign, which explains how to spot and report signs of county lines exploitation, our officers also engaged with thousands of young people in schools and colleges, and visited hotels, bed and breakfasts, shops and takeaways, which are often used by county lines gangs to recruit or groom victims into criminality.
High visibility patrols took place around public transport and in public spaces such as parks, supermarkets and banks, where those involved in county lines may often be visible.
Our lead for county lines, Detective Superintendent James Raphael, said: “County lines brings misery to communities often in the form of drug dealing, exploitation and violence and we will not stop in our efforts to disrupt and close down their activities and bring those behind this criminality to justice.
“Our teams, including neighbourhood policing, patrols, roads policing and intelligence, are working 24/7 to target those involved and keep our communities, including those who are vulnerable or at risk of exploitation, safe.
“We also work closely with our colleagues nationally, including the Metropolitan, West Midlands and Merseyside police, to target lines running into the West Country and ensure that Avon and Somerset remains a hostile place for county line operators to exploit.
“We rely on information from our communities and urge people to come forward with any intelligence around drug-dealing, suspicious activity or vulnerability that may help us in our ongoing efforts to close down this harmful and dangerous criminality. For signs to look out for we invite people to visit The Children’s Society’s Look Closer campaign at https://bit.ly/ChildrensSocietyLookCloser.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford added: “County lines exploits some of the most vulnerable people in our communities – including young adults – and police, partners and local authorities must continue to work together to tackle this awful crime.
“I am pleased to hear about the work that took place during this week of action to not only gather intelligence but to protect those vulnerable to being cuckooed. Collaboration on a national, regional and particularly a local level is key to prevent and put a stop to County Lines including working with schools and other agencies to raise awareness of how to spot the signs and protect young adults becoming involved.”
Information can be given to police by calling 101, reporting online at Report | Avon and Somerset Police or speaking anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. If travelling by train, British Transport Police can be sent a text on 61016. Always call 999 in an emergency, if a crime is in progress or if someone is in danger.