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South Wales Police

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County lines criminality

What is a county line?

An organised crime group (or urban gang) from an area such as London, Birmingham and Liverpool who extends their drug dealing enterprise across county boundaries is known as a running a ‘county line’.

How do the gangs bring drugs into South Wales?

Organised crime groups often use young people or vulnerable adults to deliver their drugs, coercing them with payment or gifts or by forcing them through intimidation and violence.

Children as young as 12 years old can be targetted and recruited to travel between the urban home county and more rural locations to deliver drugs and collect cash on behalf of the dealers. This helps the urban gang members evade detection.

Gangs communicate with other gang members and users via a drugs line, a mobile number that is typically held in the urban home location.

Human trafficking forms part of this type of crime. Dealers will often force young and vulnerable people into storing and supplying drugs, with ‘runners’ sometimes going to extreme lengths to avoid the police finding the drugs on them.

Who do urban gangs target?

Urban gangs target vulnerable young people and adults. Some of the factors that heighten a person’s vulnerability include:

• Having prior experience of neglect, physical or sexual abuse;
• Lack of a safe/stable home environment;
• Social isolation or social difficulties;
• Economic vulnerability;
• Homelessness or insecure accommodation status;
• Connections with other people involved in gangs;
• Having a physical or learning disability;
• Having substance misuse or mental health issues;
• Being a ‘looked after’ child, particularly in residential care;
• Resident of social housing in drug hotspot, particularly young females with children.

However, gangs are increasingly recruiting young people, often via social media, who do not exhibit the vulnerabilities outlined above. Their appearance and demeanour makes them better able to blend in to affluent areas where the street gangs may stand out.

Any child or vulnerable adult can be affected and it’s important to recognise that is can still be exploitation, even if the activity appears consensual.

How do gangs get these children and adults to work for them?

A consistent factor in county lines exploitation is the presence of some form of exchange between the child or vulnerable adult and the gang member. In exchange for carrying out a task the vulnerable person will be offered, promised or given something they need or want. This may be something tangible such as money, drugs or clothes or intangible such as protection, status, affection or perceived friendship.

The prevention of something negative occurring can also form the exchange, so a young person may carry out an activity due to fear of violence or retribution.

Operation Guardian – How we are tackling county lines criminality

Operation Guardian is our campaign to tackle county lines criminality which aims to protect not punish the vulnerable adults and children exploited by organised crime groups.

South Wales Police will achieve this by working together with partner agencies to identify the vulnerable people that urban gangs are ‘using and abusing’ to extend their drug dealing enterprise, and bring perpetrators to justice for this exploitation.

Disruption of the drug dealing and enforcement remains central to tackling county lines criminality with the ultimate aim to make South Wales a hostile environment for organised crime groups, preventing all forms of harm associated with these gangs.

Recognising county lines criminality in your area

There are a number of ways local communities and partner agencies can help us tackle this criminality – most significantly by identifying and reporting drug dealing or exploitation of a child or vulnerable adult.

Would you recognise if drug dealing and exploitation of vulnerable people were happening where you live or work in South Wales?

Check out our campaign artwork:

See the signs?– Raising awareness of the signs that someone may involved in county lines criminality / recruited by an urban gang.

Cuckooing– Have you noticed more people coming and going to an address of a person you believe to be vulnerable? Drug dealers often take over the home of a vulnerable person, using it as a local base to sell and take drugs.

Exploiting children crosses the line – You may not see young people or ‘runners’ with any drugs but you may see the signs that they are being used and abused by a gang to do their dirty work.

Report it!

We all have a role to play in keeping our local areas safe from drug dealing, and associated gang exploitation and violence.

If you suspect drug dealing is taking place or you are concerned that a young person or vulnerable adult may have been targeted by an organised crime group, please tell us. You don’t have to be certain, just concerned.

Call us on 101 or if you prefer you can contact Crimestoppers to report anonymously – online or by calling 0800 555 111.

If someone is in immediate danger or a crime is taking place you should always dial 999.

Support services

There are a range of support services which you may find useful:
Fearless – 0800 555 111
Childline – 0800 1111
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) – 0870 000 3344
Barnardo’s Cymru
Modern Slavery Helpline – 08000 121 700