County lines – Help your police tackle a national issue

County lines is a national issue that affects forces across England and Wales, including our own. The term ‘county lines’ refers to gangs in major cities supplying drugs to other parts of the UK, usually using dedicated phone lines to facilitate it.

The gangs target and exploit some of the most vulnerable in our communities: those who are young; those who are suffering from poor mental health or addiction; those who have already suffered some form of abuse in the past. It can have a devastating impact on the victims. Those who are coerced into helping the gangs move drugs around the country might be subjected to extreme violence or blackmail. They may feel that they have lost control of their lives and their homes. Gangs will sometimes move into a victim’s home to use it as a local base for dealing drugs. This is known as cuckooing. County lines ruins lives.

The impact of county lines activities goes beyond those directly involved in it. It can lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour and violence in the towns and villages that we live in. Many individuals involved carry a weapon, such as a knife, meaning that violence can quickly escalate to something much more serious.

That is not to say that wherever there is anti-social behaviour or violence that drugs gangs might be behind it. It is to give you an idea as to how complex an issue county lines is. It overlaps with other crime types and its impact is far reaching. This is the magnitude of the problem that police are tackling.

Dorset Police has teams in place who focus on disrupting the county lines that affect Dorset and on protecting the vulnerable people who have been coerced into being involved. Officers in our neighbourhood and response teams regularly patrol areas known for ‘street dealing’ and help make it harder for those involved to hide. The Force also works closely with other forces and the Regional Organised Crime Unit to share intelligence and best practice to target and disrupt dangerous drug networks.

But we can all do something to help those who are exploited into transporting drugs across the country, by educating ourselves about what it is and how to spot the signs, we can look out for the vulnerable in our communities and report it when we see it. The more we report, the more intelligence Dorset Police has about county lines in our county. We can arm them with information to help tackle the issue and protect those being exploited.

What should you look out for?

  • A child or young person going missing from school or home or significant changes in emotional well-being?
  • A person meeting unfamiliar adults or a change to their behaviour
  • The use of drugs and alcohol
  • Acquiring money or expensive gifts they can’t account for
  • Lone children from outside of the area
  • Individuals with multiple mobile phones or tablets or ‘SIM cards’
  • Young people with more money, expensive clothing, or accessories than they can account for
  • Unknown or suspicious looking characters coming and going from a neighbour’s house
  • Relationships with controlling or older individuals or associated with gangs
  • Suspicion of self-harm, physical assault or unexplained injuries

To keep the conversation going amongst partner agencies, county lines will be the subject of my next Problem Solving Forum. It will be the third forum I’ve held bringing together partners and stakeholders to facilitate more effective joint working on long-standing and reoccurring issues that require a multi-agency response. The Police cannot enforce its way out of a problem like county lines. I believe the response needs to be community wide.

We need to start talking about county lines with our families, friends and colleagues. It isn’t just happening in major cities. It is happening right here in the county we call home. Read the information on Dorset Police’s website. Learn the signs and how to report it. Like and share posts from the recent awareness campaign launched by the Force. But above all, open your eyes to the problem.

Martyn Underhill

You can find out more about county lines on the Dorset Police website here > 

If you are being affected by anything mentioned above or know someone who is, please contact Dorset Police by calling 101 or Do It Online here >

Alternatively, you can report it anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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