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Tackling county lines and the exploitation of children

The explosion in awareness of county lines has brought renewed focus onto the harm caused by the supply of illegal drugs.

County lines is the term used to describe drugs gangs who use a phone line to supply drugs from one area to another.

While this was traditionally gangs from larger cities running drugs lines into other, more rural locations, the term is now being used to define all drugs lines running from one area to another.

Bedfordshire faces a twin threat from county lines. We have identified gangs from other areas running drugs into our county.

Operation Nola is a dedicated team set up to tackle this threat, and over the past year has made nearly 60 arrests and seized almost £18,000 worth of drugs.

We are also using innovative new tactics such as Drug Dealing Telecommunications Restriction Orders, where we can close a phone line associated with drug dealing.

County lines girl

At the same time, gangs based in Bedfordshire are also known to run drugs lines into other areas, and we work closely with other forces to share intelligence and counter this threat.

Serious violence and exploitation are absolutely integral to these gangs’ business models.

So many violent incidents we see on our streets are linked to rival gangs clashing over the supply of drugs.

County lines signs to spot

This problem has only been exacerbated by county lines gangs attempting to muscle into local drugs markets.

As well as an increase in gang violence, we have also seen younger children becoming involved in county lines drug dealing.

We know that these gangs are targeting children to do things like run drugs or store weapons.

This includes girls as well as boys, with sexual exploitation also rife in many of these gangs.

County lines buses 2

Ourselves and other agencies are working more closely than ever to combat this so-called child criminal exploitation inherent to county lines gangs.

But over the summer holidays, when children have more free time, it is worth bearing in mind the risks that these gangs pose.

The gangs will attempt to recruit and exploit people online through things like social media.

They will also directly target children who they suspect would not draw as much attention from the police.

County lines taxis 2

There are some potential signs to spot around any child who is involved in county lines.

They may have multiple phones, be secretive about what they are up to, have unexplained injuries or experience a significant drop in emotional wellbeing.

These gangs send children across the country to deal drugs, so you may spot potential dealers on trains or buses, or waiting at stations.

Look out for discarded train tickets, as well as signs of drug dealing such as cling film, vaseline and scales.

These children may also be being driven around in taxis or private hire vehicles.

If you see a child on their own somewhere like this, it might be that they are exploited and in need of help.

Exploitation MDS

Likewise, if a child appears to be unfamiliar with a particular location, or perhaps does not have a local accent, this may be an indication that they are involved in county lines.

We must all do what we can to help prevent violence on our streets and end the exploitation of children.

If you have concerns about drugs activity, please report it via 101 or our online reporting centre.

All these reports are fed into our intelligence systems and can help us build up a picture of organised crime.

Alternatively you can contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Lay

Head of Intelligence and Serious Organised Crime

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