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Thames Valley Police has charged 54 people during a national week of action as the force continues its commitment to combat county lines drug dealing and exploitation.
The work carried out from 27 February focused on disrupting those who look to exploit communities by carrying out drug offences and exploiting the vulnerable.
A number of warrants took place across Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire, which contributed to the force’s ongoing Stronghold campaign, to work in partnership to tackle serious organised crime and exploitation.
County lines drug dealing is where organised crime groups (OCGs) use phone lines to move and supply drugs, usually from cities into smaller towns and rural areas.
This type of offending often exploits children and vulnerable people who may have addiction or mental health issues.
Victims are often exploited by OCGs who groom, coerce and often will use intimidation and violence in order to supply drugs to others.
As well as warrants, there were a number of activities that took place across the force that focused on safeguarding victims of these crimes, whilst also taking measures that look to prevent people becoming victims.
We visited previous victims of cuckooing and our officers have worked with schools in order to warn and inform pupils and teachers of the dangers of drugs and drug supply, and how criminal groups can look to exploit children.
During this week of action Thames Valley Police has:
A significant amount of intelligence has also been gathered which will help to inform the force’s continued work to combat county drugs lines in our communities. This is in addition to partnership activity and community engagement including awareness and education sessions, schools visits, Scouts engagement, open space sweeps, community engagement patrols, football club visits, landlord visits, taxi engagement and hotel visits while working jointly with local authorities, BTP, JOU teams, social care, housing and community groups.
Detective Inspector Simon Hannam of Thames Valley Police’s Drugs Focus Taskforce said: “This week of action has been really positive and productive, in terms of making arrests, protecting vulnerable people and seizing drugs, weapons and cash associated with drug dealing.
“It has been good to work alongside partners including local authorities, schools and charities, and have been able to educate people as to the dangers of drugs exploitation.
“It has been an important week going forward as we have gathered really useful intelligence which will help us continue to tackle county lines drug dealing.
“We focus on combatting county lines every day, but this intensification week highlights to the public our commitment to fighting these offences.
“It should also serve as a message to offenders. We will not tolerate those who attempt to exploit our communities, and to bring to drugs into them.
“We know who you are, we will arrest you, stop your supply and seize your drugs and cash.
“It is important that the public helps us in our fight against serious organised crime by reporting drug dealing or anything else which is of concern to them. If you are worried that someone you know is being exploited by drug dealers, please report it. We can then take the necessary steps to safeguard them and identify those responsible.”
James Simmonds-Read, National Programme Manager at The Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, which runs Look Closer, said: “Criminals prey on children, grooming them in person or online and using terrifying threats and violence to force them into crimes such as carrying drugs or exploiting them sexually.
“Worryingly, the cost of living crisis and financial pressures facing families can leave some children even more open to perpetrators offering them cash, food and gifts, even vapes and gaming credits. But it’s just not material things - they also offer the promise of friendship and feelings of belonging.
“During this Awareness Week we want to dispel some assumptions people might make about victims; it’s important to understand that any child in any community can be targeted and that children of all ages, including those entering adulthood genders are forced into sexual and criminal exploitation.
“We work with police through the Look Closer campaign so that when concerns are reported, children are identified as victims and offered support, alongside crucial efforts to bring the offenders exploiting them to justice.
“We urge everyone from commuters and transport staff to shoppers, dog walkers, online gamers and people working in public-facing roles, such as shop and hotel staff, to be vigilant for signs of exploitation in public places. By reporting things that don’t feel right, either in your community or online, you may be helping a child to escape a situation of horrific abuse.”
People should report any concerns to the police on 101. If on a train text British Transport Police on 61016. Dial 999 if there is an immediate risk to a child. Alternatively you can contact the NSPCC for advice on 0808 800 5000.