Weapons, cash and illegal drugs were seized during a county lines week of action to disrupt and protect communities from serious and organised crime in Cheshire.
Officers also made 34 arrests, executed 12 warrants and visited up to 33 addresses where vulnerable adults could have been targeted or exploited by organised crime groups, and provided them with specialist advice and support.
Cheshire police and crime commissioner, David Keane, said: “We have seen the devastating effects county lines gang activity can have on both young and vulnerable people in a number of recent cases where they have been targeted by organised criminals to bring hard drugs into our communities.
“I am pleased that police in Cheshire are working hard to disrupt these criminal gangs and make our communities safer. This sends a clear message that county lines gang activity has no place in Cheshire.”
Up to £7,000 in cash, mobile phones, knives including a sword disguised as a cane, a knuckleduster and an imitation handgun were recovered during the week while heroin, cocaine, cannabis and Spice were also seized by police.
Local Policing Units worked closely with partner agencies throughout the week including neighbouring forces, councils and social care services. Macclesfield and Chester Local Policing Units also ran operations with British Transport Police (BTP) to target people using the railway to transfer drugs into the area.
To prevent children from being targeted by organised criminals, officers visited schools and colleges to make them aware of how to spot the signs of criminal exploitation.
The signs include:
• A child or young person going missing from school or home and travelling to market towns or rural areas
• Self-harm or a significant change in emotional wellbeing or their behaviour
• The use of drugs and alcohol
• Having more money, new expensive clothes or accessories which they are unable to account for
• Having multiple mobiles, tablets or SIM cars and receiving an excessive amount of texts and calls
• Forming relationships and meeting with controlling or older people or groups
• Carrying weapons
• Significant decline in school results / performance
• Lone children from outside of the area
The operation also safeguarded a number of vulnerable adults who are believed to have been a victim of ‘cuckooing’ – a term used to describe organised criminals who force their way into a person’s home to use as a secure operating base to deal drugs.
Acting assistant chief constable Matt Burton said: “Officers across Cheshire have once again carried out some fantastic work to pursue serious and organised criminals and help protect some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“While we regularly take action to disrupt county lines, the weekly focus enables us to go that extra mile by informing the public of what we’re doing, how they can look out for the signs of vulnerability and to report it.
“Keeping vulnerable adults and children safe is our priority in Cheshire. As well as carrying out warrants, making arrests and seizing drugs, it is also incredibly important the public are informed on how they too can help.”
The operation, which took place from Monday 13 May, was part of a national focus on county lines drug activity co-ordinated by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).
A county line is operated by an organised crime group (OCG) who use a mobile phone, known as a ‘line’ or a ‘graft’ to extend their criminal activity business into new locations - usually from a city into rural areas.
A/ACC Burton added: “What can often be forgotten is that there are victims at the centre of county lines. Vulnerable adults and children are often targeted to deliver and deal drugs on a criminal’s behalf after being criminally exploited, coerced and manipulated.
“Victims are fearful of the gang’s reputation and left feeling frightened and bullied as they become trapped into their world with no way out. They will often end up becoming reliant on the organised crime group who control their lives.
“This is why we talk to school children and teachers as well as visit businesses and speak with local residents to warn of the dangers to help stop them being taken advantage of.
“I want to take this opportunity to urge residents to keep spotting the signs of vulnerability, keep an eye out if they feel something isn’t right and to report it to us on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”
Information can also be provided by email https://cheshire.police.uk/contact/general-enquiries