Public health approach needed to tackle County Lines drug dealing and rise in violence across Yorkshire

A public health approach is needed to tackle the County Lines drug dealing epidemic and rise in violent crime that is sweeping across Yorkshire, a key policing figure has said.

Detective Inspector Andy Farrell, Regional Co-ordinator for County Lines  and Serious Organised Crime Co-Ordinator for West Yorkshire Police Debbie Williams.
Detective Inspector Andy Farrell, Regional Co-ordinator for County Lines and Serious Organised Crime Co-Ordinator for West Yorkshire Police Debbie Williams.

Figures released exclusively to The Yorkshire Post reveal there are currently 148 known drug lines across the Yorkshire county.

In West Yorkshire, there are currently nine mapped and scored organised crime groups linked to County Lines and mainly in areas such as Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield, however there are a further additional 80 plus groups that are also involved in the supply and dealing of drugs.

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Police in West Yorkshire have also flagged 87 people as potential child criminal exploitation perpetrators, with a further 339 vulnerable adults and children at risk of criminal exploitation - 111 of which are linked to County Lines.

A County Lines police raid in Yorkshire which took place last week.

Detective Inspector Andy Farrell, Regional Co-ordinator for County Lines at the Regional Organised Crime Unit said: “A public health approach is needed to tackle the problem of County Lines - the police can not solve the issue on their own.

“Yes, each force has its own strategy but we are constantly working closely with our key partners and sharing intelligence every week with the National County Lines Coordination Centre. This enables all 43 police forces to look for trends and see if there are any links.

“We also have the Yorkshire and Humber Strategy where we have fortnightly operational meetings which are working really well, but each force area is different and also has its own challenges to face.”

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Detective Inspector Andy Farrell, Regional Co-ordinator for County Lines at the Regional Organised Crime Unit

Det Insp Farrell believes early intervention and education is the key.

“We have PCSOs who have delivered presentations to thousands of school children to prevent them being targeted by these criminals,” he said.

“Our aim is to target Year 6 children, so those that are around 10-years-old - that’s where you really need to start catching them before it is too late.

“Our resounding message is for professionals to be curious about what children are doing. They need to have those awkward conversations and make children aware.”

Saleem Tariq, Director of Children and Families at Leeds City Council said the authority takes the issue of child criminal exploitation associated with County Lines “extremely serious” and has established “early help hubs” across the city where specialists work closely with schools to identify children who may be vulnerable.

He said: “We are working together to develop data, intelligence sharing and reporting in order to better understand the local picture.

With criminals targeting children at railway stations and bus stops across the county, British Transport Police have been working in partnership with Yorkshire forces across the region’s rail network.

A dedicated taskforce was set up in December and so far 100 arrests have been made.

Detective Inspector Thanh Ly, of the British Transport Police, said: “Throughout 2020, we’ll be working with police forces nationally to continue this work and dismantle these exploitative drug gangs.”

In North Yorkshire, the force has three dedicated, proactive county lines teams based in areas that are impacted most - York, Harrogate and Scarborough.

Police have currently identified 655 individuals identified in County Lines offending.

In 2018, 197 arrests were made in connection with County Lines. This increased to 222 in 2019.

Detective Inspector Fionna McEwan of North Yorkshire Police’s Organised Crime Unit, said: “This is a result of extensive intelligence gathering and joint working with a number of partners, locally, regionally and nationally including the National County Lines Coordination Centre.

“Tackling drug trafficking is one of our highest priorities. County lines activity and the associated violence, drug dealing and exploitation has a devastating impact."

Detective Inspector Andy Farrell has also described housing officers and firefighters across Yorkshire as the "eyes and ears" when it comes to protecting vulnerable people from being targeted in their own homes by County Lines drug dealers.

Often, drug users themselves, and people who are vulnerable due to a mental or physical disability, their age or lifestyle, are targeted by the gangs who take over their homes and use their premises to store and sell drugs in an offence known as cuckooing.

In the last eight weeks alone, 31 addresses in West Yorkshire have been linked to cuckooing; 39 in Humberside, 147 in North Yorkshire and five in South Yorkshire.