County lines is the term used to describe gangs and organised criminal networks who arrange for the export of drugs – usually from London – using dedicated mobile phones lines.
During a meeting with Police & Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne, Chief Constable Jo Shiner said officers had disrupted more than 200 such lines in 2021/22.
But the problem does not go away.
Mrs Bourne said: “It’s a bit like whack-a-mole. You can shut one down and literally 24 hours later another one’s popped up.”
The Chief Constable said that, on average, there were around 40 county lines in Sussex at any given time, though that figure tended to drop when police action proved successful.
Ms Shiner said: “It’s not about the number – it’s about how we are identifying and tackling those lines we know are in existence.
“Also, more importantly, the intelligence that leads us to disrupt them before they’ve even formed within our county.
“Because that means we’ve prevented harm to our communities and offences taking place within.”
Tragically, the harm done by suppliers often falls on children, young people and the vulnerable, who can be easy targets for grooming to work for the gangs.
Sussex Police has more than 150 officers and staff tackling county lines.
They are trained to recognise when an offender might actually be a victim of grooming.
Ms Shiner said: “It’s everybody’s responsibility to tackle county lines – and by that I mean the users.
“Those people who actually use the drugs that these people supply and the misery that those people then bring to, often, children and young people who otherwise wouldn’t be exposed to it.”
Calling on people to be aware of the consequences their choices could have on others, she added: “One of the markets that we’re really starting to look harder at is the middle and upper-class markets – where actually at dinner parties they think it’s OK to use cocaine or other drugs as recreational drugs.
“But [they] do not necessarily link it back to the misery of county lines and those young people who are being coerced into both crime but also acts of violence in relation to that.”