County Lines - the modern day scourge
I have watched with interest this week the BBC Six and Ten O'clock News which featured special reports on County Lines and the exploitation of vulnerable young and older people.
County Lines is the name given to drug dealing which involves criminal networks from urban areas expanding their activities into smaller towns and rural areas.
The BBC's coverage featuring Liverpool and North Wales has been insightful - speaking to officers of the featured Force, shots of squalid properties used to house those dealing drugs as well as speaking to the victims themselves.
Those, often desperate, victims are children forced to deal heroin and crack cocaine enticed by the promise of money and gifts.
Then there's the vulnerable adults who are often hooked on drugs or alcohol and forced to give their homes over to these violent gangs - this is known as cuckooing.
Of course, this is nothing new to Wiltshire Police and the Dedicated Crime Teams which tackle County Lines in our county - day in, day out.
The officers see and experience what their counterparts in the North West have been showing us, via the news coverage, this week.
I've seen it for myself having spent time with our Dedicated Crime Teams. I joined officers visiting premises in Trowbridge which had been served closure orders. These are flats and houses targeted by gangs and where the occupiers, are "cuckooed" by the drug dealers.
In one flat, we found a young lad and his mother. There was also another lad, who refused to say who he was, just a forename. By a chair lay a 12-inch knife and a machete. He appeared to be 'cuckooing' and was subsequently arrested and taken in for questioning.
County Lines knows no bounds or borders.
Latest statistics show that more than 2,000 County Lines exist across the UK and more than 10,000 children are caught up in this vicious, often violent circle. It's growing everywhere, and despite Wiltshire being comparatively safe to other areas of the country - we are not immune.
Wiltshire may have a low crime rate but to keep it that way and to thwart the ever increasing threat from County Lines, we need the resources to help.
That means more government money for our police; fairer funding for us because, although we may not have the level of crime and population as say the North West, we see the devastating effects of County Lines similar to what has populated our TV screens this week.
Recently, a number of urban forces received additional money to tackle violent criminal gangs which encompassed County Lines. The thinking behind this is that money can help the police prevent the gangs from starting or growing in the first place. Cut them off at source as it were.
But crime doesn't work like that. Wiltshire as a rural county is often at the end of whichever County Line as large gangs use our towns to push their drugs.
So, I would argue that rural Forces like ours need funding to tackle our end of the County Lines operation.
As I mentioned in my new column in the Swindon Advertiser, I am not sure what the Prime Minister's promise of more officers will look like for us, but one thing is certain - if we are going to be effective in tackling County Lines then we need the money to do it.
As part of our on-going campaign, I am really grateful to our Police Cadets in Salisbury who have made a short video on County Lines which you can now find on our social media platforms and on my website.
Published Friday 16 August 2019.