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Keeping up with county lines

5th July 2022 | County Lines

The Clewer Initiative

We spoke to Detective Inspector Anne Rannard about how technology is aiding and potentially curbing county lines gangs.

Anne Rannard

As the Policy and Investigations Lead for the National County Lines Coordination Centre, how do you see county lines’ gangs using technology?

The method of mass/bulk communication is at the heart of the county lines business model. Drugs are advertised, secured and distributed via a device, such as mobile phones – that’s where the name came from. County lines is operated like a business and makes a huge amount of money for the drugs networks.

Technology is also used for the recruitment of children and vulnerable adults to transport and deliver the drugs. Gangs can use social media to target, connect with and groom children. It isn’t the only method, nor necessarily the biggest, but it is one of the channels used. These platforms are also key places to display drug-related wealth and imagery and therefore glamorise a certain lifestyle and draw children in.

Sometimes exploiters use online gaming and games ‘chat’ forums to befriend and groom victims. They may also access online accounts to steal or delete online credit and possessions to coerce or blackmail children.

Police are actively seeking to identify perpetrators and those responsible for recruiting children or vulnerable adults for county lines, with a view to prosecuting them and holding them to account for their actions. It is a serious crime to target and exploit children in this way and the punishment is imprisonment, allowing police to safeguarding victims and prevent their continued exploitation.

Bens story

How can technology be harnessed to help combat county lines?

The recently published Harm to Hope 10-year drugs strategy has three core priorities. These are to break drug supply chains; deliver a world class treatment and recovery system and achieve a shift in the demand for recreational drugs. We are working with various agencies and specialists to look at how technology can be used in a positive way to help tackle county lines and break the supply chains.

There is real potential for statutory organisations and private sector to use digital innovation to get one step ahead of the criminals. Modern technology is also helping police forces work more closely together. We are doing a lot more through the use of technology to engage drug users and encourage them to seek support for their drug addiction. Sharing information and working more effectively is also possible globally because of the digital revolution.

How do you feel about technology?

In an age where technology exists and everyone has got access, we need to accept it and adapt to it. Parents/caregivers must be more inquisitive and supervise their children’s use of it. Technology is evolving so quickly and it can be hard to keep up with our children’s habits. It is important that if we are giving our children access to technology, we also teach them how to use it correctly and safely, encouraging open conversations - which allows early identification of the signs of grooming and adequate intervention can be put in place.

I don’t want caregivers or children to feel scared, but it is important that everyone understands the importance of using technology sensibly and safely. Every day we meet children who have been targeted over the internet (for various different crimes) and the grooming process could have been disrupted if adults had realised what was going on, at an earlier point.

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Are there any websites you would recommend on this subject?

The NSPCC website is a brilliant resource. There are resources for children, professionals and parents, along with advice on how to approach the subject and a family contract to encourage safe use of technology.

The National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection website is also an excellent resource. You can select which age group of child you are concerned about and then be directed to a swathe of resources to help you parent and guide that age group. For example, for 8–10-year-olds, there is a fun, interactive quiz, in the style of a computer game, that asks children questions about internet safety. For 11–18-year-olds, there are lots of articles about healthy relationships, sexual consent, sending nudes, gaming, live streaming and socialising online.

I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone who works with children or who is a parent to visit these websites today.

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