Thu, 9 March 2023 at 6:00 am GMT
The fight to tackle County lines drug suppliers was the focus of a week-long crackdown carried out by Cleveland Police and Graeme Hetherington joined them on a series of raids.
Officers smashed their way into a number of addresses as they looked for vulnerable people getting pulled into the illegal supply of narcotics.
The force made 24 arrests and seized more than £160,000 worth of drugs after suspected dealers received an early morning knock at the door as police armed with warrants forced entry.
They also recovered more than £150,000 of cash, along with drugs and weapons.
A total of 18 men, five women and one male youth, were arrested for a variety of drug offences including possession of Class A, B and C drugs and possession with intent to supply, and six people were arrested and charged with a variety of other offences.
Two weapons seized by Sergeant Tony Snow following a raid in Hartlepool (Image: The Northern Echo)
Chief Inspector Jon Tapper said it was important to act on information supplied by concerned residents and quash the problem of street dealing and the violence often associated with ‘turf wars’.
He said: “There has been a number of incidents where homemade ‘slam-guns’ have been used by members of these organised crime groups and the problem is that they are relatively easy to make at home.
“We need to break the cycle of drug dealing and violence; that is why we are working closely with a number of organisations to start intervention work with young people in schools.
“Some of the people dealing in drugs are getting younger and they are being drawn to it because of the supposed ‘kudos’ and the money they can make from it.”
Some of the recovered drugs (Image: Cleveland Police)
One of the key issues associated with the County lines networks is the exploitation of vulnerable adults and young children who are forced to work for organised crime gangs.
Chief Inspector Tapper is warning parents and carers to be on the lookout for young people who are acting differently or have come into money.
He said: “There are some obvious signs to look out for such as extra money and buying designer goods but there are some more subtle changes like staying out later than normal and mixing with new friends.
“If we can get to them early enough, we hope that we will be able to deter them away from a life of crime.”
A warrant was executed at an address on Furness Street, Hartlepool, which saw officers seize drugs and weapons and arrest two men on suspicion of drug offences.
A 41-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs and an 18-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs.
A mobility scooter parked outside a suspected drugs den in Hartlepool (Image: The Northern Echo)
Both have been bailed pending further enquiries.
Inspector Zoe Kelsey, of Hartlepool Neighbourhood Police, said: “We targeted an address in Hartlepool where we acted on intelligence given regarding drug dealing and child exploitation.
“Sadly, we are seeing young teenagers being used to distribute drugs around the area and that can even cross borders into County Durham and North Yorkshire.
“We have acted on this intelligence to safeguard any children found at these addresses.”
A total of five adults and five young people were safeguarded and referrals were made to partners in relation to vulnerable youths and adults involved in county lines activity.
Officers also carried out engagement and awareness events with schools and hotels and stickers were also placed in taxis across Cleveland raising awareness of county lines.
The co-ordinated raids across the Cleveland Police force area are part of a national campaign to crackdown on the growing problem.
A police sniffer dog getting ready for action (Image: The Northern Echo)
During the week, drug dogs were deployed to both Middlesbrough train and bus stations as part of action held in conjunction with the British Transport Police (BTP).
A knife arch, which scans people as they walk through it and alerts officers if someone is carrying a metal object, was also used during these operations.