Police have today launched a campaign to end the scourge of ‘County Lines’, saying vulnerable people exploited by drug gangs are at risk of ‘extreme violence’.
The force-wide initiative aims to help people spot the signs associated with County Lines criminality.
“County Lines is the term used to describe urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas, as well as market and coastal towns, by using dedicated mobile phone lines,” a police spokesperson explained.
“Criminals across the country use children and vulnerable people of all ages to courier drugs and money. These drug dealers will often take up residence in a person’s home – known as cuckooing – to sell drugs in the local area.
“Once caught up in County Lines, exploited individuals are at risk of extreme physical and/or sexual violence, gang recriminations and trafficking.”
The strategy to safeguard young and vulnerable people includes raising awareness of County Lines over the busy summer months.
Local residents and visitors are being urged to stay alert, spot the signs of County Lines – and to report them.
Detective Superintendent Anthony Hart said: “Devon and Cornwall are beautiful counties to live, work and visit, which is why we welcome so many visitors over the summer holidays.
“While we want to make sure everyone enjoys themselves and stays safe, we also want to encourage people to stay vigilant and look out for the signs of vulnerable people being exploited by County Lines gangs.
“Large numbers of visitors can ‘hide’ County Lines activity, which is why we are asking residents, visitors and those employed in the holiday industry to make sure, if they see anything which looks suspicious, that they report it – either to us or, if they want to remain anonymous, they can call Crimestoppers.
“If people know the signs of County Lines, they can help us protect vulnerable people in our communities.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez says: “Catching those who import and deal drugs in our communities has never been straightforward, but modern technology and the threat of County Lines networks has made it more complex than ever.
“The young people engaged as couriers and dealers may be the easiest for the police to catch as they ferry drugs and money back to the hubs but at this time of year it becomes more difficult.
“It’s not a small problem, the Children’s Society estimates that there are at least 46,000 children in England that are involved in gang activity.
“There’s no doubt that there are criminals who look at our part of the world and see opportunities to make money at others’ expense.
“As with so many types of crime, the key to thwarting their ambitions is to work together so that local authorities, the police and members of the public are alive to the threats and prepared to help in the battle to keep Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly one of the safest force areas in the country.”
The telltale signs of County Lines
If you recognise any of these signs, someone you know could have fallen prey to drugs gangs targeting rural towns.
- A young person going missing from school or home;
- Meeting with unfamiliar adults and/or a change in behaviour;
- Using drugs and alcohol;
- Money or expensive gifts they can’t account for;
- A neighbour who has not been seen for a while;
- More people calling at a neighbour’s home – often at unsociable hours;
- Suspicious vehicles/people attending a neighbour’s home.
Report anything you are concerned about to police on 101, visit dc.police.uk/101, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact Crimestoppers in confidence on 0800 555111.
If you suspect someone is in immediate danger, call 999.