Last week, we joined colleagues from across the UK in focusing efforts on dismantling and disrupting criminal gangs running drugs into local towns and villages, as part of National County Lines Intensification Week (3-9 October) led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).
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 and rural communities, often using dedicated mobile phone lines or other ‘deal lines’. County line gangs recruit children, young people, and vulnerable adults 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”.
During the week of heightened activity, teams from neighbourhood policing, patrols, tactical support (including dogs, drones and roads policing) and intelligence joined forces with the Operation Remedy* county lines team and worked in partnership with colleagues from other UK police services to run co-ordinated operations. The pursuit, protection, preparation, and prevention activities resulted in:
- 18 arrests linked to county lines activity
- 109 welfare visits completed, with people identified to be at risk from county lines offered help and advice. Four cuckooed addresses were found, and vulnerable householders safeguarded and supported
- Thousands of pounds in cash, Class A and Class B drugs, firearms and weapons seized, including zombie knives, a machete, an axe and homemade offensive weapons
- 30 assets including phones and laptops linked to organised crime and county lines seized
- Education sessions, training and workshops taking place in schools and public places across the region, with some 1000 students, teachers, professionals, and members of the public gaining awareness of how county lines draw young and vulnerable people into criminal activity
Tackling perpetrators all year round
We are committed to tackling county lines perpetrators all year around, with a specialist team in place to build intelligence, conduct investigations and target those involved. Since the last County Lines Intensification Week in March, this activity has resulted in 29 county lines being tackled, with 44 people arrested. Of these, 41 have subsequently been charged with 126 offences ranging from the supply of Class A Drugs (heroin and crack cocaine) to the acquisition/use or possession of criminal property. People identified during these investigations of being at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation have been safeguarded and victims of cuckooing have also been identified, supported, and protected.
Central to the success of these operations has been the close partnership working between Avon and Somerset Police and colleagues nationally, including the Metropolitan, West Midlands and Merseyside police, and other agencies including housing, local authorities, outreach workers and local support services.
Our lead for county lines, Detective Superintendent James Raphael, said: “County lines and organised criminal gangs inflict misery on our communities and cause harm to children, young people and our most vulnerable, whom they target and drag into a world of exploitation, danger, and fear.
“They will stop at nothing to profit from drug-dealing, with activities often linked to weapons, laundered money, and serious violence. We will not tolerate this in the communities we serve and will continue, way beyond this week of action, to disrupt and close lines down, bring those behind this criminality to justice and deliver a clear message that if you operate in Avon and Somerset we will find out, we will come after you and we won’t stop until we arrest you.
Look Closer and report
“We thank those in our communities who share information with us around drug-dealing, suspicious activity, or vulnerability that they see. This helps to create an intelligence picture which informs out operations. Everyone can play their part by visiting The Children’s Society’s Look Closer campaign at https://bit.ly/ChildrensSocietyLookCloser and telling us if something doesn’t feel right.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford added: “I am delighted with the work that has taken place to tackle county lines during Avon and Somerset Police’s intensification week. County lines exploits some of the most vulnerable in our communities, including children and young adults, and creates turmoil in our communities.
“My first Police and Crime Plan priority is preventing and fighting crime, and Avon and Somerset Police, partners and local authorities must continue to work together to disrupt and close lines down. This sends a clear message to organised criminals and those who cause harm in our neighbourhoods that there is no place for them in Avon and Somerset.”
Report information to police by calling 101 or visiting Report | Avon and Somerset Police. Always call 999 in an emergency, if a crime is in progress or if someone is in danger. Information can be given anonymously to the Crimestoppers charity on 0800 555111 or reported via the Fearless website: https://www.fearless.org/en. If travelling by train, you can text British Transport Police on 61016.
*Operation Remedy is a coordinated effort across Avon and Somerset Police to crack down on the crimes that matter most to local people, including residential burglary, knife crime and the illegal supply of controlled drugs.