Sussex Police said that they had arrested or detained 64 people in a crackdown on “county line” drug dealing in Brighton and Hove, with 24 suspects charged and remanded in custody.
The force said today (Thursday 19 May) that members of 20 different drug dealing gangs had been held, with 13 defendants having already pleaded guilty or been sentenced.
Police seized almost 6,000 wraps of class A drugs – typically heroin or crack cocaine – as well as £30,000 cash and a weapons hail that included knives, machetes and an imitation firearm.
The crackdown – named Operation Extreme – targeted “county lines”, the name given to the type of set up used by a significant number of drug dealing gangs.
Sussex Police said: “County lines drug dealing is when criminals from large urban areas deal drugs in smaller areas across county borders, such as Brighton.
“Drug users contact them through specific phone numbers – known as deal lines.”
Dealers often also send out text messages to all the contacts on a deal line’s phone when they have fresh supplies or want to “push” or market their stocks.
Sussex Police added: “Of the 20 lines disrupted through Op Extreme, 15 were found to be operating from within London.”
Detectives from the Brighton and Hove Community Investigations Team worked closely with the Metropolitan Police county lines operation – Op Orochi – to share intelligence and trace drug lines to their source.
The Community Investigations Team also worked alongside colleagues from the joint Surrey and Sussex operation known as Op Centurion.
Sussex Police said: “County lines dealing is typified by violence and the exploitation of vulnerable people and children which makes safeguarding those at risk a priority.”
Six premises were identified as at risk from “cuckooing” – the name for the way that drug dealers exploit vulnerable people by using their homes as a base for their operations.
This typically involves violence, intimidation and exploitation of vulnerabilities such as an addiction to drugs.
Police said that they were now carrying out regular checks at the six properties identified.
Four of those arrested since Op Extreme started last September have been given conditional cautions, requiring them to work with the drug addiction support charity Change Grow Live.
Seven people were identified as being victims of “modern slavery” or similar exploitation while eight of the youths who were held have been released with safeguarding measures in place.
Detective Inspector Dee Wells, from Brighton and Hove’s Community Investigations Team, said: “The scale and breadth of Operation Extreme is a perfect example of our steadfast commitment, alongside our partners in the Met Police, to clamp down on county lines drug dealing in Brighton and Hove and safeguard those vulnerable people who are at risk.
“We have dedicated a huge amount of time and resources that have brought about tangible positive results that have made our city a safer place for everyone.
“These successes should send a clear message to those looking to bring illegal substances into Brighton and Hove that it will not be tolerated and you will be brought to justice.
“If you are vulnerable or at risk of being exploited, the support from police and our partners is there and we will do everything we can to provide the help you need.
“I would like to personally thank the Met Police’s Op Orochi, Surrey and Sussex’s Op Centurion and all of the people involved in Op Extreme for their hard work and dedication.
“Our local Neighbourhood Policing Team also plays a key role in our operations and assisting with safeguarding the vulnerable.”
Sussex Police said: “Op Extreme was supported by Home Office funding via the Regional Organised Crime Unit.
“Dozens of dangerous criminals have either been convicted or are being processed through the judicial system as of today.”
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