Could taxi drivers help in the fight against drugs gangs operating in Norfolk?
PUBLISHED: 16:01 28 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:20 28 October 2019
Taxi drivers could be encouraged to report crucial information about young people involved in the County Lines drug trade - through the creation of a mobile phone app.
Since 2016, almost 1,500 people have been arrested in Norfolk for involvement in County Lines.
County Lines is where drug dealers, mainly based outside of Norfolk, exploit young people to run drugs or takeover people's homes to use to supply drugs.
Even primary school age children are being targeted by those behind the County Lines networks - with 38 of those lines identified by police.
And, at a meeting at County Hall, where representatives from councils across Norfolk discussed the issue, the potential help taxi drivers could give to tackling the problem was raised.
A series of workshops have been taking place in each district, where the likes of bus companies and taxi companies have been invited to talk about the County Lines problem.
And Bev Alden, violence reduction co-ordinator for the Norfolk Community Safety Partnership, said the taxi companies had said an app to make it easier to report suspected County Lines activity could assist.
Ms Alden said: "We have spoken to cab drivers who know exactly what is going on.
"They collect the same young person getting in their cabs with a wad of cash, driving them to the same place with a wad of cash, and then waiting for 10 minutes.
"They are wondering what to do with that information."
She said cab drivers were often too busy with their work to make referrals, so a quicker, easier way to do it via an app might be beneficial.
Conservative district and county councillor Alison Thomas, who chaired the meeting, said it could enable drivers to make real time reports about County Lines activity.
Labour councillor Emma Corlett said she was concerned the resources of the drug dealers were better than those of the agencies trying to combat them.
She said in her Norwich Town Close ward, police and youth workers were doing the best they could, but were spread too thinly.
She said children of primary school age were being targeted to act as drug runners.
She said: "They are being offered 'pocket money' and it's being done in broad daylight and with parents there. That's how blatant it is."
Norfolk police's Operation Gravity initiative has been tackling the issue of County Lines, but there was acknowledgement at the meeting that councils and other organisations need to do more to prevent children from being exploited by the criminals running them.