Gangs (county lines)


Did You Know

There are over 7000 organised crime gangs operating in the UK

A gang could simply be a group of friends that all like doing the same things. The word takes on a new meaning when a group of friends gets involved in criminal activity.

Although it is not illegal to be a member of a gang much of the activity that criminal street gangs get caught up in is. If caught committing an offence you could end up with a longer sentence just for being part of a gang.

There are many different and complex reasons as to why people join gangs. It could be for status, to feel a sense of belonging, to make money, to earn respect or for protection from other gangs.
Status is a key factor that influences members of criminal street gangs. Having access to weapons provides a gang with an immediate status – as other rival gangs will be fearful. This is why many gangs pose with photos of guns and knives on their social networking sites - to ‘show off’ how easily they can access weapons.

It is illegal to carry a weapon and if caught they will face time in prison.

Many street gangs are involved with the supply and dealing of drugs. This can be a way that gangs make money. Dealing in drugs, like running a business has many different roles and levels of people controlling the entire operation. One emerging operation is negatively impacting the lives of thousands of young people is known as 'county lines'.

County lines (also known as ‘going country’) is a tactic used by individuals, or more commonly by groups/criminal gangs to establish a drug dealing operation in an area outside of their usual localities. This typically involves gangs moving their operations from large urban cities out into more remote rural areas – particularly coastal towns, market towns, or commuter towns close to large cities.
Reasons for establishing outside of local areas
There are various reasons why drug dealers choose to move their operations outside of their usual areas, some of which are outlined below:
  • For anonymity – County lines operations have been found to be set up across multiple police force boundaries, sometimes hundreds of miles away from the dealers’ original locations, therefore making it harder to be detected by law enforcement. Furthermore, being that far away also makes it harder to be detected by their competitors and other rival gangs.
  • A receptive customer base – Customers in rural areas have limited access to drug supplies (in comparison to those in urban areas). Therefore there is more  of a demand for the drugs in these areas than in the highly competitive urban areas where the dealers have come from.
  • Less intimidating competition – It has been suggested that the prolific use of firearms by criminal gangs in urban areas means that supplying drugs outside of these areas reduces the chances of being a target. Therefore there is a perception that the competition in rural areas are less intimidating and easier to overcome.
 This refers to the process through which county lines operators take over a local property to use as a base for their criminal activity. The operators usually target and exploit vulnerable people such as those dependent on drugs, with mental health issues , or the elderly. Through the use of violence, intimidation, or coercion (i.e. by offering money or drugs in exchange of use of their property), the operators then take over the property, sometimes rendering the victim homeless in the process.
Vulnerable females have also been found to be exploited for the use of their property. Sometimes they are coerced into abusive relationships, offered low priced drugs in order to gain control over them, and in other cases being prostituted and sexually assaulted, all the while taking over their homes in the process.
Exploitation of children as ‘runners’
A commonly recurring theme in county lines is the exploitation of children and young people. County lines operators often groom and use young people as ‘runners’, making them carry drugs or money to and from the areas where the operation has been established. This is often via train but also by car and coaches.
Children are also often made to stay over at the location (known as ‘the trap’ or ‘trap house’) and made to distribute the drugs in the area.

Some criminal gangs, usually as part of gang initiation, are involved in sex crimes and there has been a significant increase in cases of gang rape in the UK over the past 5 years. The role and relationship of girls in criminal street gangs is very complex. Girls affiliated with gangs are often used by multiple gang members to establish status, seek revenge and even used to lure rival gang members in honey traps.

Although criminal street gangs are predominately male only, there are some girl only street gangs operating in the UK too. 

If involved with a criminal street gang it can be very difficult for members to leave. There are many organisations that can help and support young people with gang exit strategies. Please refer to our related links for further information.

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