'Intelligence is key' - Chief Inspector leading County Lines crackdown
- Credit: Herts police
The last two years have seen an unprecedented rise in drugs-related criminal activity in St Albans, as the insidious growth of County Lines in the city has been accompanied by a wave of brutal violence - but what's being done to tackle the problem?
County Lines is where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries, usually by children or vulnerable people who are groomed by organised criminal gangs.
Just last month, four young men were found guilty of conspiracy to commit robbery and GBH following a six-week trial at St Albans Crown Court, and their families claim they too, were victims of child criminal exploitation.
The teenagers initially started with drug dealing but quickly escalated to robbing other dealers from rival gangs, and drug meets were arranged in residential streets, with the offenders armed with machetes and swords.
They were involved in offences between December 2019 and September 2020, in Clarence Park, Hatfield Road and Cotlandswick in London Colney, with the latter where a man in his 20s had his nose sliced off with a machete.
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In a bid to understand what is being done in the battle against grooming and drug and knife-related crime in our city, the Herts Ad spoke exclusively to Ch Insp Mike Todd, who has been heading the district's policing teams since February.
He took over from Ch Insp Lynda Coates after acting as Herts police's silver commander for Operation Bullrush, the planning and tactical delivery of Hertfordshire’s operational policing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The four teenagers behind the violent crimes in Clarence Park and London Colney were arrested and charged shortly before his arrival, but Ch Insp Todd promised at the time: "I will continue to build upon the excellent work to date, with a greater shift from reactive to proactive policing.
"I will work collaboratively with our community and partners to prevent harm, prevent crime and prevent reoffending - ensuring St Albans district remains a safe place to live, work and visit."
So six months on, what is he doing to crack down on County Lines in the district?
“We are working with county and regional police units to make sure that the St Albans district remains a safe place with relatively low levels of crime.
“County Lines and drug dealing have been growing problems across the country in recent years and St Albans, with its close proximity to London and other large urban centres, has also been affected.
"We are working hard to tackle this issue with support from our partners and there has been a significant amount of enforcement action over the last two years across the county and eastern region.
“This kind of activity is relatively low. Where we have seen it, it has been localised with only a small number of people involved.
"County Lines often involves the exploitation of vulnerable people so it is vital that we tackle drug dealing and related criminal activity as it is not a victimless crime
"I would urge the public to report any suspicious activity to police. Our response is not always obvious or immediate, depending on the nature of the investigation, but we will always act on intelligence that we receive.
“What is essential in our fight against County Lines and drug related crime in the St Albans district is that the public report information to us about suspected drug dealing and associated criminality. This intelligence is key."
Anyone with information on County Lines, no matter how insignificant it might seem, can contact Herts police via 101 or online at www.herts.police.uk/report. If you’d prefer to provide information anonymously call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or submit details online at www.crimestoppersuk.org.