County Lines: A national problem requiring a community response
County lines drugs dealing requires exploitation of the vulnerable, including children and those with mental health or addiction problems, at all points of their drug supply routes.
Children as young as 12 years old and up to 17 years old are recruited, often using social media. This exploitation of children is broader than just county lines, and includes children being forced to work on cannabis farms or to commit theft.
Be under no illusion that this is a problem that only affects certain children or those from less fortunate backgrounds. Investigations have encountered children from what people might perceive to be more stable or more affluent backgrounds who have been groomed for county lines dealing or running. Children are vulnerable by their very nature, they are all susceptible to peer and social media pressure, wanting to fit in, the attention and gifts, the 'thrill' of taking risks.
They are being physically, mentally and sexually abused and forced to travel long distances from home to deal drugs. Often they don't see themselves as victims, they are flattered by the attention and gifts they receive however this situation won't last and is grooming designed to make the person want to please. The consequences when they inevitably fail to deliver can be devastating.
Children have been found starved, dirty, injured and scared. The trauma of these experiences must stay with them and we, as a community, must do what we can to help prevent more children suffering. The most important thing that you can do for vulnerable adults or children is to be aware of the signs to look out for and take action by contacting us if you see them.
Common signs to look out for:
Change in mood and/or demeanour (e.g. secretive/ withdrawn/ aggressive/ emotional)
Substance misuse and/or drug paraphernalia
Changes in the way they dress
Unexplained, sometimes unaffordable new things (e.g. clothes, jewellery, cars etc)
Young people going missing, maybe for long periods of time
Young people seen in different cars/taxis driven by unknown adults
Young people seeming unfamiliar with your community or where they are
Truancy, exclusion, disengagement from school
An increase in anti-social behaviour in the community
We are really grateful to our Police Cadets who have made the attached video highlighting County Lines.
Vulnerable adults in the community are also being targeted and their homes taken over as bases to stash and deal drugs. Known as 'drug dens' 'crack houses' 'trap houses' or 'cuckooed' properties. The occupant is effectively just a host for the strangers who knock on the door at any hour, only useful as long as the property doesn't come to police notice.
Along with trap houses and cuckooed properties comes increased violence and crime. Behind the scenes is a long line of vulnerable, exploited children and adults.
Here are some signs to look out for:
Other people seen inside the house or flat who don't normally live there
People coming and going from the property at all hours
More taxis and cars than usual appearing at the property
Not seeing the person who lives there as frequently
When you do see the occupant, they may appear anxious or distracted
Seeing drugs paraphernalia near to the property
Detective Inspector Paul Franklin said: "It is difficult to show the full picture of the impact of County Lines using statistics on drug offences, the reality is that there are County Lines networks active in Wiltshire and children and vulnerable adults are being exploited. These drug networks have a knock on effect in all our communities with the associated increased violence, anti social behaviour and other drug related offences.
"There is no easy or quick fix to this national problem and it cannot be dealt with by police enforcement alone. Cross border policing, targeted operations dedicated units, pro active patrols, closure orders and early intervention for young people are some of a number of tools we can use but it has to be a multi agency response in order to best reach those who really need our help.
"Education is key and we are working with our colleagues in the local authorities, schools and safeguarding to provide information and highlight the dangers. We encourage everyone to make themselves aware of the signs to look out for and help us stop these criminals from exploiting our young and vulnerable people.
"Even if you are not 100% sure please contact us with any information as it may mean another child or vulnerable person can be saved from a life of violence and fear. We need information from the public and ask anyone who has information to come forward."
If you have information about drug dealing in your area there are options available for reporting. You can call us on 101 or 999 in an emergency. Or report online on www.wiltshire.police.uk where you can report anonymously.
Call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or the young people's website Fearless.org.