Week of action to tackle child criminal exploitation

South Yorkshire Police have today (Monday 8 October) begun a week of action to tackle the exploitation of vulnerable people, particularly children, forced to sell drugs.

Members of organised crime groups move children or vulnerable adults around the county, for the purpose of selling drugs in what’s known as child criminal exploitation and ‘County Lines,’ in a bid to expand their criminal network.

The term county lines comes from the phone lines used between people dealing in different areas, as T/Detective Chief Inspector Jon Cousins, force lead for Child Criminal Exploitation, explains.

“Child criminal exploitation and county lines sees urban gangs systematically exploiting vulnerable young people and adults, to sell their drugs in smaller towns or in more rural areas.

“County lines involves using a dedicated phone or ‘deal line’ and we know that the offenders involved often use coercion, threats of violence or physical harm to force youngsters and vulnerable adults to conduct their illegal activities.

“This can often lead to further criminality such as other violent crime occurring.

“In South Yorkshire, we are typically seeing this happening within the county, and we’re working hard alongside our partner agencies, schools and charities to put measures in place to protect vulnerable people and identify any offenders.”

Typically, it’s young boys, aged between 15-16 who are being exploited and any youngster who may be vulnerable due to special educational needs, for example, or those who do not have an obvious support network around them.

T/DCI Cousins continued: “Organised crime groups are increasingly looking to target young people with ‘clean skins,’ those who are under the radar in terms of being known to police and local authorities.

“However, it’s not just young people gangs will look to exploit. Organised crime groups may also take advantage of adults who are vulnerable and can sometimes take over their homes in what’s known as ‘cuckooing.’

“Cuckooing is one element of county lines which sees offenders essentially taking over the homes of victims, typically vulnerable adults.

“They may use the house for a few hours, days, or sometimes longer for the supply and distribution of drugs in one area.

“Houses tend to be used for short periods of time to deliberately avoid detection and ultimately arrest and again, offenders may use threats of or physical violence to ensure someone is kept in their home while they are dealing from it.”

This week, officers from across the force will be raising awareness of county lines and carrying out intensive activity to identify any vulnerable people, offer support and to also detain any offenders.

“County lines gangs are a threat to vulnerable people, both adults and children and throughout the week we’ll be working hard to raise awareness of this and to educate people about how they can help and the signs to look out for,” added DCI Cousins.

“Tackling this type of criminality, and protecting vulnerable people cannot be done by police alone though and we are working hard alongside key partner agencies, local schools and charities to raise awareness and protect those who are most vulnerable.

“Victims are often mistakenly viewed as having chosen to engage in criminal behaviour. What we need to understand is why they are engaging in this and how they became involved.

“We need to safeguard them, not criminalise them. This doesn’t mean that those involved in criminality will simply be let off but we need to protect them and put the necessary safeguarding measures in place so that they are protected and do not become involved in this type of criminality again.

“We also need the help and support of the public and over the coming days we’ll be informing you of the signs to look out for which may indicate that someone is being exploited or mistreated.

“We’ll also have a range of activity happening across the county, including proactive warrants and public engagement opportunities, to raise awareness.

“Follow #CountyLines on our social media channels to find out more and to keep up to date with everything happening throughout the week.”