Specialist officers are asking for the public’s support as they raise awareness of an emerging form of drug dealing known as County Lines.
Under the model labelled ‘County Lines,’ dealers based in larger cities expand their operations into smaller towns and set up dedicated mobile phone lines to take orders for high purity heroin and crack cocaine, often initially sold at low prices.
In other regions, where this so-called business model has taken hold, areas often see spikes in violence where rival groups compete for business and vulnerable people exploited by ruthless dealers who use their properties to operate from.
Children and teenagers are often recruited to help transport packages from one area to another and can fall victim to exploitation and abuse from dealers.
Now, Detective Inspector Kirsten Dent is calling on the public to learn more about County Lines to help officers prevent it from affecting our region.
As the County Lines Coordinator at the North East Regional Special Operations Unit (NERSOU), Det Insp Dent regularly works with schools, local authorities and a range of other partners across the region to encourage a’ joined-up’ response and make sure everyone is clear about the warning signs.
She also works closely with Det Insp Stu Liddell who has been seconded to London’s Metropolitan Police from Northumbria to lead the national prepare portfolio for County Lines.
He said: “Nationally this model has affected a number of larger cities which is why the National County Lines Coordination Centre was established last year and ensures all police forces are joined up with the National Crime Agency and regional organised crime units to tackle the issue”.
“We are working with banks and financial institutions, universities and other businesses as well as the British Transport Police and other transport providers to make sure we all see the bigger picture”.
Det Insp Dent said: “County Lines is a callous operation being ran by greedy criminals with no sense of responsibility or remorse for the communities they destroy.
“Here in the North East, we’ve successfully identified a few lines but the scale is nowhere near what we are seeing in other areas. That said, we are constantly reviewing the situation and trying to understand the market and raise awareness so we don’t become a target.
Common signs to look out for in your neighbourhood could include an increase in visitors to an address, unfamiliar cars or new people appearing at properties or a frequent change in residents. Substance misuse or drug paraphernalia appearing or an increase in young people from out of the area. Another sign someone might be being exploited include unexplained, sometimes unaffordable new things like clothes, cars and jewellery, people seeming unfamiliar with the community or where they are or going missing for long periods of time.
Det Insp. Dent added: “The best advice I can offer anyone with concerns is to trust your instincts, we would always prefer to have reports which turn out to be nothing, rather than not knowing when someone is in difficulty.”
You can speak to your local police by dialling 101, or in an emergency 999.
If you would rather remain anonymous, you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.