Police in Harrogate have teamed up with housing officers and drug workers to help vulnerable people caught up in so-called “county lines” drug dealing.
County lines is the term given to a type of drug dealing that is exceptionally violent and sees dealers from out the area travelling to county towns such as Harrogate or York to sell drugs. It takes its name from the phone lines used by the dealers to market their drugs and take orders.
Two key priorities for North Yorkshire Police is the practice of “cuckooing” which is where drug dealers use violence to take over a vulnerable person’s home to store and sell drugs. And child criminal exploitation where young people are groomed by dealers before being forced to transport and sell drugs on their behalf.
Today (23 January 2019) officers from North Yorkshire Police’s dedicated “county lines” team in Harrogate visited 15 victims of cuckooing to check on their welfare and put appropriate safeguarding measures in place. They also visited local homeless centres to raise awareness among vulnerable people and charity workers.
They were joined by housing officers from Harrogate Borough Council and support workers from a drug and alcohol recovery service to provide additional support for anyone who needs further help.
Officers also visited 14 pharmacies in the area to raise awareness of county lines and help staff recognise the signs. This could be anything out of the ordinary such as a person not collecting their methadone prescription for a few days, or unexplained injuries.
This proactive work was complemented by two pop-up information stands at Harrogate Railway Station and the Cenotaph led by local policing teams and Police Support Volunteers, aimed at increasing awareness among members of the public. In addition, officers worked with colleagues from British Transport Police to disrupt anyone using the rail network to bring drugs into the town.
Acting Sergeant Greg Davies of Harrogate Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “The day saw increased activity as all three agencies worked together to protect vulnerable people and provide them with any support they need. These people, many of whom who are drug users themselves, are targeted by violent dealers because of their vulnerability and in some instances, their dependence on drugs. Providing an all-round service from immediate protection from violence to longer-term rehabilitation and helping them get their lives back on track is important to break the cycle of drug dependency, vulnerability and violence. My thanks go to all the agencies involved.
“Although today saw increased activity in the area, it is typical of the work going on across the district every day of the week.
“Our key priority is to protect vulnerable people and bring the perpetrators of drug and violent crime to justice. Members of the public can help us by reporting anything suspicious or anything that seems out of the ordinary. We can’t stress how important their information is. Drug dealing is a hidden crime and by reporting even the smallest piece of information you could help us piece together a wider picture that will then inform our policing activity. We may not respond immediately, but your information will be key in building up our intelligence. Please trust your instincts and if something doesn’t look right, please report it.”
Councillor Mike Chambers, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for housing and safer communities, said: “I am pleased that officers from the council’s housing team are working in partnership with the police and other agencies in helping to safeguard and assist those vulnerable people from within our district who are so cruelly exploited by these unscrupulous and violent drug dealers. I would join North Yorkshire Police in urging members of the public to be vigilant and to report anything suspicious or out of place, however small. If something doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t, so please report it. It can make a real difference.”
The signs of cuckooing to look out for include:
Increased callers at a property
Increase in cars pulling up for short periods of time
Different accents at a property
Increased antisocial behaviour at a property
Not seeing the resident for long periods of time
Unfamiliar vehicles at the property
Windows covered or curtains closed for long periods
Gangs are increasingly using social media to recruit children who aren’t typically vulnerable, so everyone needs to be alert to the following signs:
Persistently going missing from school or home and / or being found out-of-area;
Unexplained money, clothes, or mobile phones
Excessive receipt of texts / phone calls
Relationships with controlling / older individuals or groups
Leaving home / care without explanation
Suspicion of physical assault / unexplained injuries
Significant decline in school results / performance
Gang association or isolation from peers or social networks
Self-harm or significant changes in emotional well-being
If you suspect a child you care for or know is being exploited, please call the police on 101, if they are in immediate danger, always call 999
DO NOT approach anyone you suspect is involved in drug dealing. Please report it to the police on 101, or to Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. If a person is in immediate danger, always call 999.