Working together to keep our communities safe
Chair of Plus Dane's Board, Sir Peter Fahy, on the role housing associations and our tenants can play in helping to end criminal exploitation like county lines drug dealing.
As Chair of the Board at Plus Dane, I will be writing in each edition of our customer magazine Unity to give you some insight into the big challenges facing housing associations and our communities more widely, and how Plus Dane and the Board are working to address these - often in close partnership with you as tenants.
You will have seen lots in the media recently about the growing issue of County Lines. Anyone who has lived with an addict or has had a friend or family member affected knows the enormous misery caused by drugs. Drug use and drug-related deaths in the UK are at record levels. There is huge amounts of money to be made from dealing, and the serious criminals who have got a part of the market will do all they need to keep and expand it.
They target people who they believe can be turned into addicts and become regular customers depending on their dealer to get through each day.
Drug dealing is risky, especially storing and moving the goods – and the greatest threat often comes from other dealers rather than the police. This is where ‘County Lines’ comes in.
County Lines gets its name from the phone numbers or lines used by gangs to order drugs and control the market. It is different from other forms of drug dealing due to the way it uses ordinary homes of targeted victims to store and sell drugs, using impressionable young people to move drugs about the country. These young people are drawn in with the promise of large amounts of money, but find themselves trapped in the network and ruthlessly exploited.
Regrettably, we know this is going on in our properties and neighbourhoods, as it is in many areas of the country. Some of our tenants have been targeted while suffering with mental health problems, addiction or debt. Their homes may be taken over by criminal gangs for dealing and their neighbours are too frightened to say anything, or perhaps just don’t recognise the signs.
We are now training our staff to spot the signs of County Lines and of other forms of modern slavery, and to watch out for those who may be susceptible to exploitation. We are also on the watch for properties being misused - signs include increased numbers of callers at a particular address, or drug paraphernalia in the area. We are working with the police, the local authorities and others to share information and take action when required.
We know that you, as tenants, can be the best people to spot the signs of County Lines and exploitation. You are most likely to notice lots of strangers calling at a particular address, or how a young person has changed their behaviour and is going away to other parts of the country for no obvious good reason. You might hear of gangs moving into your area, using extreme violence to draw young people into their net. You may know a family living in fear because of drug debts.
You can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 with any information, or perhaps you would like to share your concerns with one of our staff in confidence.
Thousands of lives are being ruined by this trade, by violent greedy people who have little regard for the young people they ruthlessly exploit - and we can only defeat it if we work together.