Record numbers of more than 700 people have been arrested during a week-long crackdown on ‘county lines’ drug networks.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of Class A drugs – including crack cocaine and heroin – have also been seized along with more than £180,000 cash and over 160 weapons including guns, swords, machetes, knives, an axe and a crossbow.
More than 650 men as well as 91 women were held in a series of raids around the country, begging on Monday October 7th.
Officers visited a total of 655 ‘cuckooed’ addresses and seized 49 deal lines.
The haul included more than £250,000 of cocaine, £100,000 of crack cocaine and £72,000 of heroin.
It marks the fourth week of intensification since the National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC), was launched last year.
Police say it has so far prevented more than 3,000 vulnerable people, including children, from being exploited by drug gangs during this period.
Nikki Holland, National Crime Agency (NCA) director of investigations, said they were “dismantling these criminal networks piece by piece” and “hitting them where it hurts so they don’t benefit from their crimes.”
She said: “Tackling the county lines networks exploiting young people, and bringing potentially deadly drugs and violence to communities, is a top law enforcement priority.
“These latest results show that thanks to the coordinated effort with our partners in police forces and ROCUs, we are dismantling these criminal networks piece by piece.“
She said criminal networks rely on the flow of money to further their drug trafficking operations and conceal their assets, adding: “Over the last year of county lines intensifications, we have seized more than a million pounds – hitting them where it hurts so they don’t benefit from their crimes.
“We also know that criminal networks use high levels of violence, exploitation and abuse and we’re seeing young and vulnerable people being identified as victims of modern slavery, as the criminals exploit and coerce them into doing the day-to-day drug supply activity.
“The only way we can effectively tackle this national problem is by adopting a whole-system approach, with partners in Public Health, Department for Education, Social Care and the charity sector working to prevent that exploitation happening in the first place.”
During the week-long operation, 41 referrals were made to the National Referral Mechanism which assesses individuals as potential victims of human trafficking or modern slavery.
Vulnerable individuals, often children, are exposed to physical, mental and sexual abuse and sometimes trafficked to areas far from home as part of the network’s drug dealing business.
County lines networks are now being told they will be treated as child traffickers, not just drug dealers, as law enforcement increasingly use modern slavery legislation to prevent the exploitation of young people.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Duncan Ball, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for County Lines, said: “During the past week we have made further strides in tackling and dismantling the activities of county lines gangs.
“The large number of arrests and weapons seized is testament to the joined-up work between law enforcement and our partners.
“We will not treat the criminals who run these lines just as drug dealers.
“We will work tirelessly to prosecute them for these offences but also, where we have the evidence, we will seek to prosecute them for child trafficking under modern slavery laws to reflect the devastating nature of their exploitation of young and vulnerable people.”
He added: “We need the public to continue helping us with information or concerns they have.
“This can be done anonymously through Crimestoppers.”
The NCLCC, which is jointly led by the NCA and the National Police Chief’s Council, is responsible for mapping out the threat from county lines nationally and prioritising action against the most significant perpetrators.
It provides support to front line officers and is working to deepen the partnerships with non-law enforcement organisations to enhance the wider national response.