Cambridgeshire Police and The Children’s Society are urging members of the public to spot signs of exploitation among children and young people being targeted by county line drug gangs.
Peterborough Matters interviewed DCI O'Brien last week regarding concerns of growing gang-related drug issues in the county, particularly in Peterborough.
Describing the nature of these gangs, he said: “These are organised crime gangs, operating via phonelines from a big city in the UK who are controlling vulnerable young adults who have been exploited to work for them.”
“These young adults, sadly children most of the time, take a lot of risk on behalf of this big gang to sell drugs.
"Children and young people who are being exploited may not always appear vulnerable or act the way we may expect victims should. If something doesn’t feel right, it may not be.
"Those working in the service, retail or transport industry are in a position to spot signs of exploitation and abuse. Report it to us and collectively we can safeguard more young people.
“It’s a problem everywhere- Peterborough, Cambridge, surrounding villages and everywhere around the country.”
On arrests, DCI O'Brien said: "I can’t give an exact number, but we have a good knowledge of the extent of the problem and it’s a constant battle.
"It is definitely the force priority- we have dedicated teams who are working on this. Our officers are out on the streets patrolling on a regular basis and can say that we are proactively going after these criminals and bringing justice to the people being exploited.
“The young people are being horrifically groomed and are made to live in horrific conditions - they are scared and vulnerable and have been exploited and we are aware of this.
“We have specialised investigators and we look into a full range of partnerships to offer support these victims and their families the required support and safeguarding. The last thing we want for these young people to be criminalised for, is something where they have been groomed into it. "
In May 2020 heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis with a street value of up to £5million were seized as part of a drug crime operation across Cambridgeshire. A total of 113 people were also arrested within a time-period of eight weeks, in relation to the production or supply of drugs.
Are the officers spotting more females being involved in these drug-related activities?
“Up and down the country this is a big problem. Unfortunately, these gangs prey on anyone irrespective of male or female and will look at exploiting anyone," DCI O'Brien said.
"We have found they are using children because you wouldn't suspect a child to be running drugs. But sadly, it’s happening.”
Fearful residents have complained about a lack of police presence around areas such as Lincoln Road, Park Road, streets around the Central Park where drug dealers operate in broad-daylight and would like to see more visible deterrents from the police.
We asked him - can the force assure them this is being looking into?
He replied: “If people see something, I would urge them to keep reporting it to us- the more information, we have the more we can tackle the crime. I want to sure people that we are absolutely committed.
"We might not always have a cohort response and visible patrolling but we are working and have got officers in plain clothes sometimes patrolling. Therefore, I would encourage people who might have information - please contact us and report it to us. We have quite a few tools in our armoury including conducting Stop and Search.
“We understand people might be wary of doing this - as these are dangerous criminals. I can tell you that we have a great intelligence team. We have measures in place to report anonymously.
"In any situation I would tell people anything they tell us, stays with us. You can report via our online web portal or by phoning 101.
"You can also do it anonymously through Crime Stoppers UK. The more information we gave the more resources we can direct into it. We need the community to be our ears and eyes and help us in this fight.”
More information on reporting incidents can be found here.