Day four of Safeguarding Week and today’s topic is county lines.
County lines is something that has recently been at the top of the national news agenda, with news reports frequently covering county lines police operations and convictions from all across the country.
But what is county lines, how can you spot it and what are the police doing about it?
“County lines” is the term used to describe a form of organised crime where criminals, based in urban areas, pressurise vulnerable people and children to transport, store and sell drugs in smaller county towns. It takes its name from the phone lines used by organised crime gangs to communicate between towns.
There are a number of ways in which organised crime groups take hold in vulnerable people’s lives and force them to be involved in criminal behaviour.
“Cuckooing” is a term used to describe when drug dealers take over a vulnerable person’s home and use it to deal and store drugs and cash. County lines criminals target, coerce and threaten vulnerable people, such as people with drug problems, people who are suffering from mental health issues or physical or learning disabilities, single mothers and female sex workers. They take control of their home and use it to conduct their illegal business from.
Information and reports from the public are essential for us to build a picture of intelligence around cuckooing and we encourage anyone with suspicions about a property to contact us and share that information.
Some tell-tale signs of cuckooing are:
• Increased callers at a property
• Increase in the number of cars pulling up for short periods of time
• Different accents at a property
• Increased anti-social 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
If you suspect drug dealing and cuckooing at a property, report it to police on 101 or if there is immediate danger, always call 999. You can also report anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Another element of county lines is the control and exploitation of children to carry out criminal activities.
Criminals target children who may be susceptible to exploitation due to instability at home, or who may of experienced violence in the home, parental drug abuse or criminality, isolation or exclusion, homelessness, a physical or learning disability or mental health issue.
Gangs use social media to target children, so it’s important that parents and carers are aware of the signs that they are being approached. Things to look out for are:
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
• Carrying weapons
• 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.
Speaking about the work North Yorkshire Police are undertaking to tackle county lines operations, Detective Superintendent Fran Naughton of North Yorkshire Police Crime Operations said:
“County lines drug dealing is a major priority for North Yorkshire Police, so much so that we have teams who are focused full-time on disrupting drug dealing activity and safeguarding vulnerable people who have been, or are at risk of being exploited by dealers. In 2018 alone we made 191 arrests in connection with county lines drug dealing and we were the first police force in the Yorkshire and Humber region to secure a Drug Dealing Telecommunications Restriction Order. This is a court order that can shut down a phone line or restrict a person’s access to communication devices and networks.
“We work closely with multiple partner agencies to provide additional support and interventions, including local councils, housing officers, drug and alcohol support workers and community cohesion officers. We also work with British Transport Police to intercept suspected drug dealers who use the railways to bring drugs into the county.
“Information from members of the public is vital in helping the police disrupt criminal activity and we would appeal to anyone who has a suspicion that there may be any criminal activity linked to county lines happening near them, to pick up the phone. Whether it’s drug dealing at a neighbouring property or you know of a person who may be being targeted and forced to take part in criminal activity, please contact us and share your concerns. Safeguarding vulnerable people in our communities is everyone’s business.”
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