On the 25.07.19 I had the opportunity to go on patrol with Dorset Police as an observer. I met with Stg Andy Jenkins and his dedicated County Lines Team at Weymouth Police station. The team covers the West Dorset area but focusses on hot spots around Weymouth, Dorchester and some rural areas.
The team was developed last year out of the need to put focussed resources to deal with the County Lines issue when a shooting happened in Weymouth. I remember being involved in dealing with the incident as a Team Manager, trying to safeguard a young child and his mother who had been cuckooed and were drawn into County lines. Stg Jenkins had been part of safety planning with the Social Worker and we had developed a multi agency plan to support the family at the time. So it was great to touch base with him and find out what the team is doing to manage the drug scene and its criminal supply networks.
It was an exciting day for me to see the police force in action and discuss with Stg Jenkins their approach. The ethos of the team is to create safer communities by targeting the drug dealers and interrupt the exploitative networks rather than criminalising the users. The team has been able to get to know the users, their vulnerabilities and stories and due to their day to day presence on the streets, has developed what we would call relationship based practice in Social Work.
I was impressed by their way of engagement with exceptionally vulnerable adults when we visited a woman who had spiralled in her addiction to the point where she had her child removed from her care and lived in squalid conditions. The care and compassion the team showed to her was evident as well as a real understanding of her issues- Non oppressive practice in Social Work terms!
However I was also able to witness the flip side of the coin in their approach to criminal networks and gang activity in the small but very busy Weymouth Town centre on the hottest day of the year so far.
The team was made aware of suspicious activity in an area well known to them for being used as a place to deal drugs. This area is surrounded by commercial and residential properties whose occupants frequently raise concerns to Police regarding what is occurring in their streets. A male was seen by the team to interact with several drug users and was quickly detained for a full drug search.
Again I was impressed with the professionalism and non oppressive engagement with the dealer, the users and the onlooking holiday makers! It was a swift but effective action and within minutes we were back at the police station for the dealer to be strip searched and processed.
He turned out to have a large amount of Class A drugs on him which he carried internally.
This was a very effective piece of police work which meant that £2000 pound worth of drugs were not circulated to local dealers, potential overdoses were prevented and user community could see how the County Lines team was safeguarding them rather than criminalising.
I am now looking forward to work with the team, BU criminology department, my LPC colleagues, Pan-Dorset Safeguarding Boards and partner agencies in future to develop a risk assessment tool for adults who are vulnerable to exploitation to evidence the impact of preventative and multi agency work around County lines.
by Tilia Lenz, Lecturer Practitioner Consultant