Multi-agency unit to tackle 'county lines' crime launches
Friday, September 21, 2018
A £3.6m unit to tackle "county lines" crime where gangs from urban areas exploit children to establish drug-dealing networks in rural areas has launched.
The National County Lines Coordination Centre consists of a 38-strong multi-agency team of experts from the National Crime Agency (NCA), police forces and regional organised crime units.
The Home Office said the team will work together to develop the national intelligence picture of the complexity and scale of the threat, prioritise action against the most serious offenders, and engage with partners across government, including in the health, welfare and education spheres, to tackle the wider issues.
County lines crime relates to the supply of Class A drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin, from urban cities to market towns, coastal areas and rural locations by young people, using a dedicated mobile phone line.
Gangs and criminal networks use extreme violence and intimidation to establish and maintain markets, with practices including forcing vulnerable people from their homes to establish a base to sell drugs.
The Home Office said the county lines model involves modern slavery and exploitation of children alongside drugs supply and violent crime.
The most recent national assessment of county lines, compiled by the NCA, suggests that there were more than 1,000 lines in operation nationally with links to increasing levels of serious violence.
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The Home Office said there are already 200 active county lines investigations under way, but the introduction of the centre will allow police forces to intensify their operations.
Crime minister Victoria Atkins said: "Using vulnerable young people to travel across the country to sell drugs is an appalling crime and we are cracking down on the gangs and networks responsible for these deplorable acts.
"The National County Lines Co-ordination Centre will strengthen the law enforcement response to this issue and enable police forces to work together to tackle a crime that crosses regions and demands a multi-agency approach.
"We are determined to put an end to the serious violence blighting communities. This measure will address one of the key drivers of these tragic crimes."
Plans to launch the unit were first announced as part of the government's serious violence strategy unveiled in April.
NCA director general Steve Rodhouse said gangs involved with county lines crime are responsible for high levels of violence in addition to the exploitation and abuse of children and vulnerable adults.
"In addition to helping the NCA and policing partners to work together more effectively and deliver a more comprehensive response to the county lines threat, the centre will assist the development of a whole-system, multi-agency approach which is vital to ensuring that vulnerable people are identified and safeguarded, understanding factors behind demand for drugs, and recovering proceeds of crime," he said.