A leading police officer has said the force in Essex is achieving strong results by going after the drug kingpins of the county – as more than 6kg of drugs were seized from the streets in a week.
Essex Police made 55 arrests, seized £180,000 in cash and took more than 6kg of drugs off the streets as part of a week of action focused on disrupting County Lines drug supply.
The dubbed “County Lines Intensification Week” took place across the county between October 11 and October 17, targeting the supply of drugs between Essex and London.
Read more: The latest crime news from across Essex
Acting Det Supt Lewis Basford said the work was a culmination of the force changing tactics to go after the leaders of the operations by tracking phone lines, instead of targeting street dealing in the first instance.
Of the 55 arrests made by Op Raptor teams in Essex, 39 people were charged, 13 people were released under investigation and three people were released without charge.
As a result, 13 County Lines have been disrupted.
In total, Essex Police seized £180,000, 2.5kg of crack cocaine, 2.5kg of heroin, 56g of cocaine, 1.6kg of cannabis, and 17 MDMA pills. There were 84 phone lines uncovered including nine that were county lines phones.
In addition, police seized £2,500 worth of designer clothing, bags and hats, plus a vast array of weapons; two samurai swords and knuckle dusters, a zombie knife, hunting knife, machete and sword.
As well as the arrests, ten people were referred for safeguarding.
The arrests were made across the county and into London and other parts of the East, including in Southend, Westcliff, Leigh, Basildon, Grays, Harlow, Chelmsford, Colchester, Clacton, Dagenham, Barking, Chingford, Aveley, Enfield and Bedford.
Det Supt Lewis Basford said the week of action had been planned for the last month.
He said: “About a year ago we brought about the serious violence unit for Essex for the growth programme.
“Before we were in this team together we used to go out and look for people supplying Class A drugs in towns like Southend and Basildon and were taking out the problem at face value of what the general public see.
“We now work the investigation backwards; we work out the numbers and mobile phones that are to supply the drugs into the districts.
“We take about two to three weeks at a time around a County Lines operation now, it was months but now it’s weeks.
“The intensification was just that one week but it was about three weeks in the planning.”
Det Supt Basford said County Lines operations would often target people based in Essex districts to be their feet on the ground.
He also said the force are seeing stronger results from the crown courts; leaders of County Lines operations when sentenced now receive an average of three to five years in prison – when previously they were looking at 16 months give or take.
But the police’s work to dismantle the County Lines operations is not always going straight to the criminal courts.
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Det Supt Basford said: “We will get juveniles involved who may be subject to coercion. We do look to offer diversion from the offending. Not all those we target will go to crown court proceedings.
“Threats may be made to them by telephone if they do not complete the work of the County Line.
“Our job at Essex Police is to sustain that public safety for longer. Even if they we do try to divert, if it doesn’t work we will defer to the crown court proceedings. Certain individuals have almost been waiting for the police diversion.
“But we will get those individuals who have made that decision, either through family make-up or something else.”
Det Supt Basford said the police’s work meant there have been some days where known Class A drug users were not able to get the drugs they were addicted to, and ongoing work with partners in councils and charities will bring a “public health approach”.
This will be to encourage addicts “not to resort to other crimes to fund their habits”.
The police are also carrying out more regular checks on more vulnerable adults in various districts to protect them from “cuckooing”, a process where drug dealers will take over people’s properties to run their criminal operation.
Det Supt Basford said: “We’ll make sure they are safe and if they’re suffering from coercion, try and get into their property.”
He added advice for families who may suspect their younger relatives could be involved in such operations.
He said: “Pre-cursor behaviours, that being children that are disengaging, cash or products being purchased for them. Early notification means that we can come and assist.
“It’s not always about enforcement but if families are concerned for their children we will work with them to make sure they do not get involved in that offending.”
Report drug crimes to police by calling 101 or visit essex.police.uk. You can also call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
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