‘County lines’ is an emerging national issue, where organised crime groups from urban areas such as London, Liverpool and Birmingham put children and vulnerable adults between themselves and the risk of detection by manipulating them into carrying and selling drugs. ‘Runners’ will be sent across county boundaries to areas like Llanelli, Newtown, and Haverfordwest to deliver and/or sell Class A drugs at the other end of the line.
Dyfed-Powys Police is committed to tackling the drug dealing and violence associated with these gangs, but alongside enforcement ‘Operation Guardian’ aims to identify the vulnerable people who are potentially coerced and forced into committing crime by urban gangs, and to put measures in place that protect not punish them.
Someone may be vulnerable to exploitation by organised crime groups for a number of reasons, but invariably there is a power imbalance in favour of those perpetrating the exploitation. Factors include age, gender, cognitive ability, or social isolation; however, a consistent factor in county lines exploitation is the presence of some form of exchange between the victim and perpetrator.
In exchange for carrying out a task, the victim may be promised or given something they need or want. This could be something tangible such as money, drugs or clothes or intangible such as protection, status, affection or perceived friendship. The prevention of something negative can also fulfil the requirement for exchange, meaning a young person or vulnerable adult may carry out an activity due to fear of violence or retribution.
Detective Chief Superintendent Shane Williams said: "Our number one priority is to protect vulnerable people, and this includes children, who can be as young as 12 years old, and the vulnerable adults who are ruthlessly exploited by urban gangs to do their dirty work. Ultimately our aim is to make the Dyfed-Powys area a hostile environment for organised crime groups, preventing all forms of harm associated with these gangs.”
Detective Chief Superintendent Williams continued: “Any child or vulnerable adult can be affected and it’s important to recognise that it can still be exploitation, even if the activity appears consensual.
“Our aim is to shine a light on this exploitation, and by working together with a wide range of partner agencies including local authorities, third sector agencies, housing associations, train and coach operators, identify abuse sooner so that we can intervene and keep vulnerable people safe.”
‘Cuckooing’ is one example of how a gang will use and abuse a vulnerable person. This is where a gang will take over a drug users’ or other vulnerable person’s home, and use it as a base for their local drug dealing. This may be with the blessing of the resident, but more often is as a result of force or the threat of force. In some cases, the resident can also be pressured into selling drugs.
Unusual activity that could be associated with ‘cuckooing’ include:
- Lots of different people coming and going from an address
- People coming and going at odd times of the day and night
- Suspicious smells coming from the property
- Windows covered or curtains closed all the time
- Cars pulling up to or near the house for a short period of time
- An increase in anti-social behaviour around the property
Dyfed-Powys Police is asking for the public and partner’s help to identify exploitation like cuckooing. So, if your neighbour or tenant is suddenly having many more visitors to their property and at unusual times of the day and night, or you notice that their curtains or blinds are almost always shut, it could be because their home has been taken over by a drug dealing gang.
We’re not asking partners or the public to provide evidence or even to be absolutely certain of what they have seen or experienced, just that if they are in any way concerned that they report it to the police or anonymously with Crimestopppers.
Likewise you may be in a position as a parent or carer, teacher or health worker to identify that a young person’s behaviour has changed. You may notice that their academic performance is declining or they are persistently going missing from school; you may become aware that they suddenly have cash to splash or new clothes and gifts from an unknown source or; learn that they are carrying a weapon such as a knife. This could be because they have become involved with a gang.
The independent charity Crimestoppers Wales provides an anonymous route to give information about crime, and offers a bespoke service to young people called Fearless. Through Fearless, we aim to engage with and educate young people vulnerable to or involved in county lines criminality. Visit www.fearless.org