Criminals linked to county lines drug dealing have been targeted during a week of action in Cheshire.
Officers arrested 18 men, including two teenagers, and six women on suspicion of drug offences.
A number of items were seized including drugs, believed to be worth more than £300,000, three knives, 19 mobile phones and £4,000 in cash.
Officers also visited 12 people, four women and eight men, who had been identified as vulnerable and at risk of exploitation by drug gangs. Officers worked with local authorities and charities to provide specialist support and advice.
At least 20 people were safeguarded during the week.
Local officers visited primary and secondary schools in Chester, Warrington, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn and Widnes to educate pupils on how organised crime gangs recruit youngsters to deal drugs on their behalf and the signs they should look out for.
The week of action ran from Monday 11 October to Sunday 17 October and was part of a national focus co-ordinated by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).
Detective Inspector Eli Atkinson said: “Protecting and preventing young children and vulnerable adults from organised crime gangs who go out of their way to exploit them is one of the force’s top priorities.
“We work relentlessly with our partners to educate young children by visiting schools to give talks and presentations while we also identify and visit adults in our community who we think could be at risk.
“A lot of this work relies on the support of parents, guardians and residents in the local community. You are our eyes and ears. By learning the signs of criminal exploitation and talking to children about them can really help deter the cycle this criminality brings.
“It’s the same with vulnerable adults too, please keep an eye out on your neighbours who may be vulnerable and report anyone who you think may be displaying signs of county lines criminality.”
These are some of the signs for child and vulnerable adult exploitation to look out for:
- A child or young person going missing from school or home and travelling to market towns or rural areas
- The use of drugs and alcohol
- Having more money, new expensive clothes or accessories which they are unable to account for
- Forming relationships and meeting with controlling or older people or groups
- Carrying weapons
- Increase in visitors or cars to a house or flat
- People coming and going at odd times of the day and night
- Strange smells coming from the property (illegal drugs)
- Cars pulling up to or near the house for a short period of time
DI Atkinson added: “I’d like to think the community are aware of how relentless we are in creating an atmosphere that is perceived as hostile to these criminals and the week of action is purely a snapshot of what officers are doing on a daily basis.
“Please do keep reporting information to police or through Crimestoppers and trust that we will do the rest.”
Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, John Dwyer, said: “This week of action demonstrates that the Constabulary are making Cheshire a hostile place for criminals.
“Whilst the Constabulary have gone out and taken offenders off the streets, the other positive aspect of this operation is the education to young people. Children and young people are some of the most vulnerable in society, and empowering them to know the signs and look out for each other is important.”
You can find all the signs you should be looking out for here
If you believe drug activity is taking place in your community please contact Cheshire Constabulary on 101 or visit the website.
Information can also be provided by calling Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.