Today’s guest blog is by someone I am proud of. I am proud because they have decided to speak the truth around police and county lines, and I think this is a breath of fresh air.
This person done something that no one has done before. They apologised to me on behalf of the police. Wait…let me rephrase that…they apologised to the child that I once was, to Blondy. They said that I had been let down and they were sorry that happened, as a police officer. No one, not one professional ever acknowledged that what happened to me and others is not good enough.
They were going to be named. Blaze of glory and all that. But I don’t think the need to throw themselves out there like that.
Let me introduce you to a brave police person and please listen to what they have to say
Police and county lines…from the heart..
Gangs and County Lines have not always been a thing for us (Police). We only really noticed the increase in Gang Violence, people getting stabbed in the streets, drug turf wars, serious violence and weapons around 6-7 years ago. Before then, local dealers used to deal in their own little sphere, and everyone generally kept to their own list of users / customers. If anyone did start to stray it was generally sorted out with a ‘punch up’ or use of baseball bats in an alleyway somewhere and rarely reported to us.
The picture really started to change when youths with knives began to chase other youths down streets, young boys (often) were stabbed for no apparent reason, people began turning up at hospital with stab wounds, local dealers began coming to the Police in fear for their lives. There was something happening, a lot of our serious violence seemed to be linked, the same names cropped up time and time again. People from London were being arrested with seemingly no affiliation with the area, they had allegedly come down for the day or had been here a week, they had travelled by train, they were often young, very young.
The violence levels had stepped up, associations between groups in say Essex and groups in London started forming. Those troublesome teenagers from the local towns and villages started to go missing for weeks on end. Hire cars began travelling from Metropolitan areas (not just London) with people dealing drugs and fighting on our streets. It was a very confusing time. Our reaction was a little slow, we didn’t realise quite what we had on our hands, we were dealing with each offence in isolation. We tried our best to keep on top of it, but this came at a time when we were very focussed on detections, results, outcomes. Crime levels were king, and we were trying to drive down our ‘volume crime’, which meant that we focussed our efforts on crimes that were rising such as burglary and theft offences. If you get a spike in drugs arrests by proactive policing, you will get a spike in recorded drugs crime, that’s how it works. Managers were keen to keep crime levels low with the ever-diminishing resources they had at their disposal, so pro-active work around drugs was definitely off the agenda – you don’t want to go creating more crime.
The Police Officer on the street knows that the need for drugs fuels the acquisitive crime, but we were being focussed on the resulting theft offences, not the drug trade that was causing it. Police budgets were being cut massively, we were pushing to reduce crime levels and detect / solve crimes, Police forces were in competition with each other for the best Detection Rates, so we went for those we could prove and produced some fairly impressive results, but turns out this is not what the public wanted at all. Apparently, they wanted us to get out there amongst the criminal gangs and disrupt them, stop the drug dealing in the communal areas of their block of flats, in the car parks, in the streets, outside the schools, and we hadn’t been listening.
Gangs and County Lines made the Police sit up and listen. A large percentage of our serious violence was being driven by County Lines activity and we needed to do something different. We set up specialist teams to chase the gangs down, harass them, arrest them, seize their drugs, seize their weapons, take away their cars, seize their phones and their assets, and they were (and still are) very effective in doing that. The problem was we were arresting everyone in the house or the car, we were doing what we have always done, chasing the offence and the offender and going out to prove the crime, rather than taking a balanced view of the situation.
13 years old girls don’t normally choose to secrete drugs inside their body cavities and go missing for months on end.
Boys as young as 12 don’t often decide to travel 50 miles from their home carrying knives and £500 cash in their pants so that they can be chased into a shop by someone wielding a machete.
Vulnerable drug users wouldn’t normally choose to have 3 youths from Hackney stay with them for 3 weeks and take over the flat to deal crack from it and drive them around the town knowing that the person in the back seat has a 10-inch knife.
This was all new, but we didn’t see the difference, they were all offenders to us, we went after them for any offence we could and, again, we were pretty good at it. However, no matter how good we were, they kept coming, and coming. This is a societal problem, the Police cannot do what they have always done but equally, the children are all too easily lured into this world by those that would groom them to do their bidding. The reasons for this are also complicated but stem from a lack of opportunity, lack of education, exclusion from school, lack of aspirations, lack of role models, lack of youth provision, no youth clubs, no mentors, no choices, poverty, normalised violence.
If you were a young child in this situation and someone made you an offer that was too good to be true, what would you do?
For a little while now we have realised our failings, we are trying to differentiate between those who are knowingly and repeatedly dealing, assaulting, sexually and physically abusing others and benefiting from the process, and those they are using to do their dirty work and are often raped, sexually assaulted, beaten, stabbed, abducted and trafficked. It is a very complicated picture, it is hard for us to pick our way through it and make the right decisions. I defy anyone to come up with a clear cut fool-proof method of determining who is in the County Lines business (on road) because they want to be, and who is there because they have absolutely no choice and have the threat of serious injury or death for them and their family. We are getting better at thinking about this, but we are nowhere near perfect yet. I think this process will continue and we will evolve, but rest assured we are trying, and our most important priority must be to protect the people who are caught up (trapped) in this violent, vicious trade rather than the number of knives we seize, the number of crimes we detect or the value of the drugs we recover.
Those that organise these County Line gangs are child abusers, physically and sexually abusing children and exploiting and trafficking them – forcing them to work in situations of extreme danger in order to make themselves rich, not the old fashioned ‘drugs dealers’ we were used to all those years ago. We are very keen to learn from others, share good practice, thoroughly think through all of our (collective) processes and make sure this time we get it right. We’re by no means perfect, we haven’t got the answers yet, but we are trying our best to evolve along with the challenges.
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