Sussex Police has been keeping up the pressure on 'County Lines' drug dealers who operate from outside the county as well as locally. During the week starting on 21 January officers carried out 28 arrests, made 711 drug seizures, and seized £10,475 cash as well as 32 mobile phones.
During the same week, officers carried out safeguarding action to support 17 vulnerable people and visited 91 addresses where people were at risk of being 'cuckooed' to check on their safety.
Detective Chief Inspector Steve Rayland said: "This is the result of just one week's activity, and shows how we are continuing to disrupt dealers who try to distribute dangerous drugs across our communities. Our work will continue relentlessly, targeting those who would bring harm to local people, including often the most vulnerable.
"Police work to combat illegal drugs in Sussex continues under the 'Fortress' brand, launched to encompass all our drug-harm reduction work. It is already used by police in Hampshire and there are plans to roll this out further across the South East, which will continue to strengthen the unified voice from police and partners that says this is a hostile environment for drug supply.”
Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne said; “County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation have a devastating impact on young people and vulnerable adults. The results from this intensification week show how much of an emerging threat it is across Sussex and I have been assured that there will be an ongoing determination to combat this crime type by our Force.
"Local crime is often a direct result of major drug distribution via county lines and by working together with partners to shed a light on this often hidden crime and taking the appropriate measures to combat it, Sussex Police are sending a clear message to drug dealers that they cannot expect to go undetected in Sussex."
'County Lines' is a term used by Police and partner agencies to refer to drug networks, both gangs and organised crime groups, from large urban areas such as London, who use children and young people and vulnerable adults to carry out illegal activity on their behalf. Gangs dealing drugs is not a new issue but the extent to which criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, as well as the increasing use of violence, has become an inherent part of it through 'County Lines' makes it especially damaging .
The organised crime groups tend to use a local property, generally belonging to a vulnerable person, sometimes a drug user, as a base for their activities. This is known as 'cuckooing' and will often happen by force or coercion. In some instances victims have left their homes in fear of violence. Much police work involves identifying these victims and helping them.
Police continue to see children being exploited by criminal gangs to supply drugs in Sussex. Sussex have experienced children travelling from London to Sussex to deal drugs on behalf of county line gangs as well Sussex children being exploited and targeted by London gangs to deal drugs locally. Our priority is to identify those children at risk of criminal exploitation and once identified work with partner agencies to put the appropriate safeguarding measures in place.
The areas in Sussex most effected by the drug trade from London are the larger coastal towns, with established drugs markets that can be exploited locally, including Hastings, Eastbourne, Worthing, Bognor, and Brighton, but also towns such as Crawley.
Steve Rayland said; "We estimate that there are currently some 65 active County Lines in Sussex, although that number fluctuates on an almost daily basis as we disrupt lines and others are set up. In addition to this there are other locally-based dealers. In total we estimate that there are currently more than in excess of 350 telephone numbers (known as deal lines) which are used to facilitate the supply of controlled drugs - although again that fluctuates regularly.
"But over the past nine months, prior to last week's operations, we had successfully disrupted 88 criminal activities linked to County Lines, and since August, again prior to last week, we had made 133 arrests.
"A forcewide County Lines and drug related harm working group brings all parts of policing together to tackle the threat. There is a four-part plan (Prevent, Protect, Pursue, and Prepare) to develop our own working practices, to share best practice and to deliver a better service for the public.
"We use the range of legal powers to tackle this problem, ranging from the Misuse of Drugs Act to Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking legislation and technological advances through the use of Drug Dealing Telephone Restriction Orders (DDTRO).
"We also work closely with other agencies to support those vulnerable adults and children who are exploited by county line gangs. This includes regular visits to those adults at risk of cuckooing and raising awareness with those agencies engaged with children to ensure that information is shared effectively to prevent young people being drawn in to this criminality."
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Southey from the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit, adds; “We are working hard, alongside partner agencies and our colleagues in Sussex Police to identify and target the most serious offenders in County Lines drugs supply gangs."
The County Lines response isn’t just a policing one. Effective collaboration between law enforcement and safeguarding organisations – and also the private sector industries used by CL groups - is a vital part of both the national and local response. Members of the public can also help: - the best advice is to trust your instincts – if somebody shows signs of mistreatment, or a child seems to be travelling long distances or is unfamiliar with a locality, you can report suspicions to local police on 101 or online or to British Transport Police if you see something on the railway network.
There are also many sources of further advice and assistance to help combat the harm caused by drugs, including;
FRANK - Provides straight-talking information about drugs
•Helpline number: 0800 77 66 00
Narcotics Anonymous - A self-help group run by recovering addicts. Provides an open discussion on the impact of drugs and family.
•Helpline number: 0300 999 1212
The Samaritans - Offers emotional support 24 hours a day
•Free Helpline number:116 123
Families Anonymous - Support groups for the family and friends of people with a current, suspected or former drug problem.
•Helpline number: 0845 1200 660
Adfam - A national organisation working with and for families affected by drugs and alcohol