Police working to safeguard children from County Lines criminal gangs in Staffordshire have made eight arrests.
The men, aged between 22 and 46 years-old, were arrested yesterday (26 February).
They are being questioned on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of drugs and conspiracy to commit modern slavery in Stoke-on-Trent.
Police say further arrests are planned.
Officers from the Staffordshire force are working alongside Stoke-on-Trent City Council and Staffordshire County Council, particularly Children’s Services as part of the operation.
It aims to arrest members of organised crime gangs who target young and vulnerable people, but also identify young people who are at risk of criminality and to help divert them away from criminal exploitation.
That involves educating children and highlighting the dangers and consequences of being involved in gang culture, violence or drugs.
County Lines describe a specific type of criminal exploitation – where gangs and organised crime networks exploit children to sell drugs. They are often forced to travel to different counties, and they use dedicated mobile phone lines of ‘deal lines’ to sell these drugs.
Gangs deliberately target children – some as young as 12 – and these children are often groomed, deceived or threatened into carrying and selling drugs for them.
Dealers typically use a single phone line to facilitate the supply of Class A drugs – frequently heroin and crack cocaine - to customers. The line becomes a valuable brand and is protected with violence and intimidation.
Over the next few days neighbourhood officers will also be delivering leaflets advising parents and carers of how to spot the signs of a child being criminally exploited and where to go for help. Targeted outdoor and online advertising will also encourage young people to understand whether they are a victim of exploitation. Officers will also be going into schools, colleges and care homes as part of an education awareness programme.
The operation will concentrate in the north of the county, but will be implemented across the force.
Leaflets are being delivered to raise awareness of signs young people are being exploited
Detective Chief Inspector Rob Taylor said: “As well as working with partners to let parents and educators know what to spot, we aim to target the gangs who exploit children and vulnerable adults as part of these drug networks.
"These gangs don't care about the human cost of their dealing, they also don't care about the impact in the wider community with the associated increased violence, anti-social behaviour and other drug-related offences in local neighbourhoods which does affect innocent people.
“We are dedicated to listening to the concerns of our local communities and acting on any information that comes to us. I would like to urge anyone with any information about drug-related issues in their local communities to report the matter to the police.”
Cllr Randy Conteh, cabinet member for communities and safer city said: “We are working hard with Staffordshire Police, our local communities and other partners to protect our children from predators who want to use young people to do their dirty work. It is simply not acceptable and we are not prepared to let it continue. We will take a stand.”
Cllr Dave Evans, cabinet member for children and young people said: “Protecting children is our number one priority and staff will continue to make sure that those affected receive the help and support they need both now and in the future. My thanks go to our teams who work tirelessly behind the scenes to support in necessary operations such as these.”
If you have information about drug dealing in your area there are options available for reporting. You can call us on 101 or 999 in an emergency or go to where you can report anonymously.
Alternatively you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or visit the www.fearless.org
If you are worried about a child or young person in Stoke-on-Trent, contact Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s Safeguarding Referral Team on 01782 235100 or out of hours 01782 234234.
If you are worried about a child or young person in Staffordshire, contact First Response on 0800 1313 126 or out of hours on 0345 6042 886.