‘The end game of county lines is prison or death’ - youth workers and police discuss violent crime in Norfolk
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
A case worker has warned the only 'end game' for young people involved in county lines drug dealing is prison or death, at a debate focused on understanding issues behind violent crime in Norfolk.
More than 40 people joined the first EDP Open House discussion on knife crime and county lines drug dealing on Tuesday to talk about the problems surrounding violent crimes in Norfolk, many of which are believed to be fuelled by drug gangs.
Experts in both the charity and public sectors discussed the urgent need for agencies to work together to convince young vulnerable people to not fall down the path of criminality.
Norwich chief inspector Sonia Humphreys said that while drug dealing was not a new problem, it was the way in which drug gangs operated that had changed.
Norfolk Police, along with partner agencies, launched Operation Gravity at the end of 2016 when the phenomenon of county lines drug dealing began seeping into the county.
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The new wave of drug dealing involves urban gangs from cities such as London hiring young people to sell drugs in rural and coastal towns with promises of money and status.
Chf Insp Humphreys said: "[Drug dealing] was very much contained with adults, but now vulnerable people and children are getting involved in transporting drugs."
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The gap in the drug market has now been filled by teenage drug sellers, said Ian Duckmanton OBE, of charity Volunteering Matters, who described county lines as a lucrative business model.
To tackle the issue, he said: "Early intervention has a massive impact on later behaviours and crime. "It's very much about allowing young people to tell us what are the things they want to do."
This sentiment was shared by former Norwich boxer Earl Ling, who works with young people in Norfolk schools to teach them about the dangers of getting involved in violent crime.
Mr Ling, a caseworker for charity St Giles Trust, has hosted special training sessions to 3,961 pupils, parents and teachers from 14 schools.
He described some of the youngsters getting involved in crime as bright, "with great business acumen", and said they needed role models to lead them to a better path.
"They need to take that skill and use it elsewhere," he said. "That is what we are trying to get through to them - that there is no end game with drug dealing, there is prison or death."
Of his own experience as an ex-offender, he said he had a "watershed moment" which took him a long time to reach.
"To get [young people] to change their minds is a hard task," he said. "It was a long process for me to get to where I am now."
Some youth workers said young people were being lured into the drug trade with false promises of making quick money but were then unable to escape out of fear.
They said this had led to young people feeling the need to carry a knife to protect themselves, not only from drug dealers but also drug users.
Chris Small, from Norfolk County Council's youth offending team, said: "Young people are concerned for their own safety.
"Children and young people are more likely to be injured by that knife than use it to defend themselves."
But he added: "Beyond the fear factor, though, I suspect young people carry knives for bravado."
Detective superintendent Andrew Coller, of Norfolk Police, said there was a model of exploitation which involved young people being handed £200 to deliver a package a short distance away.
But en route they are ambushed by members of the same gang and have the package stolen, which leaves young people trapped in debt to the tune of thousands of pounds.
"We as police with our partners need to look at who is exploiting them," he said.
"When people report things to us it matters. They might not see police at the door or someone getting arrested but the information they give might feed into the longer term."
One unifying belief that was shared by guests at the discussion was the recognition that county lines is not just an issue of crime.
Norwich City councillor Sandra Bogelein said there needed to be an honest and bold discussion on drug policies and for drug addiction to be seen as a health and mental health problem.
Dr Benjamin Walden, consultant addictions psychiatrist, agreed, stating funding cuts to drug addiction treatment was a key issue.
"The reality is if you're not treating addiction you are managing the problems it causes," he said.
To tackle the problems of knife crime and county lines, representatives from charities and organisations from both the private and public sectors agreed that they needed to work together.
They agreed that austerity played a big part in perpetuating crime and that the criminal justice system only dealt with the symptoms.
Addressing everybody in the room, Det Supt Coller said: "Not one of us can solve this on our own."