A suspected county lines drug dealer’s phone is being used to send out hundreds of text messages to his customers to help them break their addiction.
Analysis of the Bestwood dealer’s hotline revealed the mobile numbers of more than 100 contacts were receiving SMS marketing updates from the drugs line.
The phone was recovered after a raid of a suspected county lines drug dealer who was arrested for conspiracy to supply class A drugs following a warrant executed in Bestwood.
The search was part of the relentless pursuit of criminals in a drugs network that is supplying heroin and crack cocaine across Nottinghamshire.
Dedicated officers detained five men, who have since been released under investigation, during the proactive work and the force hopes to make further arrests in the coming weeks.
County lines officers are now sending their own text messages from the seized phone to offer a way out to those trying to overcome substance abuse, reduce drug crime and give vulnerable people a way to seek help from local partners and support services.
The text lets the recipient know that their phone number has been in contact with a county lines phone and signposts drug users to seek support through tailored services in the hope that they will turn their life around.
Detective Inspector Paul Lefford hopes the force can reach hundreds of young people and adults through the bulk messaging tactic, with the aim to disrupt drug dealing activity.
He said: “It’s crucial that we think of different ways to start a conversation with those vulnerable drug dependant users and help turn their life around.
“It’s important to reach out to people not only to support them, but by helping them stop their drug abuse, we would see fewer people commit crimes to feed their habit and prevent crime before it happens.
“By seizing devices during raids, we have an opportunity to obtain a wealth of knowledge that can help with the force’s investigations.
“Drugs gangs exploit drug users and we know there are people who may feel trapped by their lifestyle or frightened to get help.
“We want them to know there is a way out and there are people who can help them through our partners if they wish to receive it.
“Intelligence suggests that people are being exploited to carry out drug dealing on behalf of the line.
“We’ve made a number of significant arrests recently and will continue to pursue county lines drug activity.
“The force’s county lines team works closely to our key partners to keep people safe and, whether that’s by prosecuting drug dealers or supporting vulnerable people to break free from a particular lifestyle.
“Our message is clear, if you a drug dealer in Nottinghamshire and you are looking to recruit, exploit and profit financially by exploiting the vulnerable we will use every tactic available to us to locate, enforce and prosecute you.
“We hope this tactic will be successful. If the support services manage to talk to one vulnerable person and they seek the support they need, then in my view the initiative will have been a success.”
The new tactic is a joint strategy between the Nottinghamshire Violence Reduction Unit, Cleanslate, Change Grow Live and Nottinghamshire Police.
Violence Reduction Unit director Dave Wakelin hopes more vulnerable people contact them through the tactic. He said: “We created the HashtagNG campaign and website with young people in the city and county as a means of engaging other young people in need of support as a result of drug abuse and other risks related to serious violence and exploitation.
“So far over 180,000 individuals in Nottinghamshire have accessed our resources, either for their own needs or those of their family or friends.
“If you are being exploited, we know that talking to someone can be a tough thing to do, but there are ways you can stay safe whilst accessing help and support.”
Recently the force has enhanced its ability to tackle and safeguard some of the most vulnerable people in society from being exploited.
Six officers have been added to the force’s county lines proactive team who work tirelessly to crack down on serious and organised crime networks who pull young or vulnerable people into a criminal underworld to peddle drugs or carry out forced labour.
The new officers will identify and engage with children at risk from county lines crime groups in a bid to build trust and confidence with young people and prevent them becoming involved in a cycle of criminality.
County lines is the term used to describe criminal gangs who move illegal drugs from big cities to rural areas and sell them via a dedicated phone line. It often involves the use of children and vulnerable adults who are recruited and exploited by these gangs.
The new tactic of contacting the vulnerable is being used by officers during #LookCloser awareness week, which is raising awareness of child exploitation and abuse, with a focus on public spaces.
The campaign also seeks to challenge stereotypes of victimhood, highlighting that child exploitation can happen anywhere, and any young person can be a victim.
The #LookCloser campaign, run by the Children’s Society in partnership with the National County Lines Coordination Centre and police forces across the country including the British Transport Police, also seeks to challenge stereotypes of victimhood.
It highlights that child exploitation can happen anywhere and any young person can be a victim.
James Simmonds-Read, national programme manager at the Children’s Society’s Prevention programme, said spotting the signs of exploitation wasn’t just a matter for parents and professionals.
“While lockdown meant children being exploited were often hidden from the view of professionals and the public, the easing of restrictions means there are now more opportunities for us all to spot the warning signs,” he said.
“Through our Look Closer campaign, we are urging anyone who encounters children in their daily lives – from morning commuters and delivery drivers to hotel and shop staff – to report any concerns that a child might be being exploited to the police.
“People may not feel what they are reporting will be enough for the police to act upon but it could be a crucial piece in the puzzle in helping a child escape a situation of horrific abuse and unimaginable trauma.”
To find out more about HashtagNG’s county lines initiative please visit: https://www.hashtagng.co.uk/understanding-county-lines
For more information about Look Closer visit: www.childrenssociety.org.uk/lookcloser