Northamptonshire Police defends disruption of 'county lines' drug dealing after critical national report

Northamptonshire Police defended its work to tackle 'county lines' drug dealing in the county after a report criticised the national response to the 'phenomenon'.

Current policing models are too disjointed to allow for the most effective response to the UK-wide issue, according to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

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Northamptonshire Police's lead for 'county lines', Detective Chief Inspector Tony Hopkins, said: "Northamptonshire has mapped a number of county lines and is looking at a multitude of ways to tackle this criminality."

According to the Home Office, the term 'county lines' describes how city gangs export illegal drugs into smaller towns and rural areas, like Northamptonshire, using dedicated mobile phone lines.

They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and associated money, using coercion, intimidation, violence and weapons too.

In April last year, a Corby council meeting heard Northamptonshire had 38 groups of dealers they knew of that were flooding the county with drugs from big cities, mostly in Northampton and Kettering.

Although it identified many instances of good practice, HMICFRS concluded there needs to be a more coherent and integrated system of national tasking, intelligence sharing and response in a report released today (Friday, January 10).

The inspectorate also urged the Government to consider imposing restrictions on pay-as-you-go mobile phones to prevent gangs from using them.

Det Ch Insp Hopkins said: "We recognise the importance of having a co-ordinated response to address the issue of county lines drug dealing, not only in Northamptonshire but across our regional forces."

An officer from Northants is embedded in the 'regional organised crime units', which supports anti-county lines activity with bordering forces and to the national centre.

While working with the National Crime Agency and partners has had a 'significant' impact on disrupting the supply of drugs in Northamptonshire, Det Ch Insp Hopkins added.

"The force has stepped up activity to combat county lines drug operations with major policing activity in 2019," he continued.

“Operation Serpent and Operation Viper were two huge operations - the first to dismantle an organised crime group suspected of actively recruiting children in Northamptonshire to facilitate class A drug dealing, involving 250 officers.

"The latter resulted in 87 people charged after Northamptonshire Police set up a major operation to crack down on drugs offences.

“In addition we introduced a new local policing model in October, which enables us to address local vulnerability issues, as well as addressing the specific county line issues affecting our communities on a more local level."

The HMICFRS report warned the lack of a fully integrated, national response meant investigations are often less effective than they should be.

The report also noted concerns regarding organised crime mapping, competing priorities and the limited use of telecommunication restriction orders.

Her Majesty’s inspector of constabulary, Phil Gormley, described 'county lines' as a 'cross-border phenomenon which needs a cross-border response'.

“Our inspection revealed that policing is currently too fragmented to best tackle county lines offending," he said.

"Although we did see many excellent examples of collaboration, we concluded that the current approach does not allow for the level of coherence needed."