*Sound of police carrying out warrant*
Presenter: Hello and welcome to Cambs Cops: Our Stories. In today's podcast we'll be delving into the world of drugs and county lines in Cambridge.
We're joined by Sergeant Paul Street who heads up one of our neighbourhood support teams who tackle the growing issue.
We'll find out why drug dealing affects whole communities and the lengths the dealers will go to to hide their stashes, but also the determination of the team to catch those responsible.
Sergeant Paul Street: We've picked up kids as young as 12 to 13 who have been sent from London to sell drugs and we've had adults doing it as well, so the age range we're getting is from early teens all the way upwards which is quite a sad state of affairs.
People see drug dealing as a victimless crime, because people think, drug addicts choose to buy drugs and if they're choosing to inject themselves with poison then that's their business. Whilst there is a part of me that understands that viewpoint, what people don't see is the gang wars that happen around drugs so our job is to arrest drug dealers and we're not unrealistic in thinking, you know I don't think we're going to solve drug supply in the city, but if we didn't arrest the drug runners that we arrest, the market will become saturated with drug dealers and what they end up doing is fighting over turfs, they'll start stabbing each other and they'll start killing each other, because they'll be too many of them in one area.
What people don't see is the violence that happens, and I don't think members of the public are in danger from this at all, because drug dealers don't tend to want to be seen, so they don't cause trouble members of the public, but what we don't want is young people getting stabbed or killed and it has happened. There's been drug-related murders in the city. We don't want young people getting killed because of drug dealing.
Well it's being run by organized crime groups outside of the county, but the people that actually are doing the drug running are often children or young people, they're not always, they're adults as well that do it, but the people that are running the drugs on the streets are usually right at the bottom of the ladder, so they won't be getting paid masses of money to deal drugs. They're often young people from less affluent areas in bigger cities and this is a way of them buying nice trainers or buying track suits or improving their own lifestyle. We also find there are sometimes people who are forced or coerced into drug supply and these people again often will get bullied by a gang or they'll get taken into a gang and they'll get sent to Cambridge to come and deal drugs for that gang, which sometimes it comes in the form of what's called debt bondage. So, a young person for example will buy cannabis off their cannabis dealer, they will get into debt with this cannabis and then the cannabis dealer will say okay in order for you to pay off your debt you're going to go to Cambridge and you're going to sell drugs for me. That's one example of debt bondage.
Presenter: Drug networks linked to county lines bring a whole host of criminality into Cambridgeshire, including violence and exploitation. These types of criminals will seek out children and vulnerable people and exploit them to carry out their work.
Sergeant Paul Street: County lines is a very specific style of drug dealing, so there's quite a common misconception about drug supply that all drug supply is county lines related and that isn't the case. So county lines is in essence the sale of crack cocaine and heroin from usually from out of county so it's usually from London or Birmingham or Manchester or big urban cities, coming to rural areas to deal drugs so the drug runners sent from those locations to come and deal drugs in Cambridge or the surrounding towns and it is, although not exclusively, it's usually crack cocaine and heroin as opposed to cocaine and cannabis, which people can often get confused by.
So, in Cambridge at the moment in the city we think there's potentially 15 to 20 different county lines working. We only work via intelligence and evidence from when we arrest people we look at phones for example so it's not an exact number, but essentially there are people in Cambridge at the moment, who aren't from Cambridge, who will come down here in hire cars or on the train and they will deal drugs to drug addicts and they do it in a variety of ways. So some people will take over other people's houses and deal drugs from that as a base, so we call that cuckooing, which is similar to a bird taking over another bird's nest. A drug dealer will approach a drug user, will offer them x amount of free drugs so two or three raps of drugs for example, for the use of their premises and they will then take over that premises and deal drugs from the premises. So cuckooing is something we really try and target within our role, but there's other ways people deal drugs. We often have hire cars coming from places like London for example, that will drive to Cambridge drive around all day dealing drugs and then drive back to London that evening. We have drug dealers who will rent hotel rooms and B&Bs and stay there for short periods of time, two to three days at a time, and then once they've sold the drugs again they go back to London or back to Manchester or Birmingham, wherever they're from, and reload more drugs, and we also see people who will approach drug addicts and get the drug addicts to deal the drugs for them, so the drug addict won't have to pay for their own drugs, but their role will be to sell drugs to other drug addicts because they've got all the contacts and also it’s a lot harder to be apprehended by police because they look just like normal drug addicts.
If a child's picked up; if child's arrested drug supply then we'll put safeguarding measures in place for them, so we're not instantly sending people to prison. That's not the game, we appreciate now and we've certainly been more trained and there's legislation now in place that shows us that young people can be trafficked and can be effectively modern day slaves, which is a new offence that's come up very recently. So, our role is to safeguard these people, so we'll put them in the National Referral Mechanism process which is basically a Home Office structure that will determine whether or not a young person has been forced into it and we'll also put safeguarding measures in place for that child.
Often we have to be quite inventive when we go to people's houses, because if we're going to someone's house to knock on their door, they're unlikely to answer the door if it's the police. So, one occasion we knew this particular house never answered the door to police, or indeed anybody, so what we did was we dressed an officer up in a crocodile outfit and we gave them a charity bucket and we sent them door to door knocking as if they were raising money for charity. They got to the front door of this location, the drug addict inside the house opened the front door, thought it was absolutely hilarious there was a crocodile at the front door asking for money and then all the police officers burst into their house and arrested the drug dealers inside. So that's one example of ways you can be quite ingenuitive to go out there and get the right result we need to get.
The drug dealers we deal with will go to great lengths to hide the drugs, so sometimes they will swallow drugs thinking that we're not going to pursue that, sometimes they will insert drugs into their bottom, which you know if you consider the fact we're dealing with often with children, it's horrendous that a 13, 14, 15 year old has been trained to insert drugs into themselves if the police arrive, but if we catch somebody who we think has swallowed drugs or we think has plugged drugs anally, then we will keep them in the police station until they produce those drugs. So, we've had people on constant observation for up to three weeks in custody where they've not gone to the toilet and there is legislation we can use that allows us to keep people for this amount of time, so I think there is a misconception that if you swallow drugs or plug drugs when you're around the police the police might not do anything about it; we will, we will keep people until they produce those drugs, because what we don't want is to release somebody from custody and then them to have an overdose because there's drugs inside them and also we don't want people to get away with it. If you're all drug dealing in the city we're going to we're going to arrest you send you to prison.
Presenter: County lines cannot be tackled by police alone and we need the public to help us by reporting suspicious drug activity and by helping us to identify those who are being exploited. Some of the signs of exploitation in young people include a change in behaviour, associating with gangs, unexplained bus or train tickets, being missing from school and having unexplained gifts.
Sergeant Paul Street: What we would ask members of the public, is that they contact the police if they have any suspicions of drug supply or criminality of any kind, so you can do that by ringing 101, you can dial 999 if it's an emergency, you can do it online on the Cambs Police website, but what you're looking for is groups of people huddling in areas that you wouldn't associate as places to relax, so in an alleyway for example, if you're getting regular groups of people huddling in an alleyway there's probably a fair chance there's a drug dealer nearby. If you're seeing lots of people going to and from an address more than is reasonable, again there's a reasonable chance that could be drug dealing, but if you contact the police you can do anonymously, so the member the public who lives at that location or people around there won't know you've done it, but it gives us a clue as to where stuff's happening because we can't be everywhere when we're out patrol, but the public see stuff that we don't see and it's really important that people keep contacting the police and giving us information, because ultimately it's not just about protecting that member of the public, it's about protecting the whole community and I certainly wouldn't want children playing in a play park where there's needles or where there's people dealing drugs.
Presenter: Thank you to Paul for sharing his experiences and at times, rather gruesome, stories with us. Just to reiterate Paul's message, if you suspect county line's drug dealing where you live, work or visit, then you can report it online at www.cams.police.uk/report.
Thank you for listening and remember to look out for the next episode of Cambs Cops: Our Stories on our YouTube channel.