Cllr Nicky Massey, Labour’s candidate to be the next Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner, told the Peterborough Telegraph ahead of May’s elections: “I wonder how many of the issues in Peterborough are because you have a homegrown drug market. That’s one of the biggest issues in Peterborough – how do you tackle home-grown drug dealing violence without allowing the county lines to get hold of your city?
“It’s the homegrown dealers who use weapons and fear to stop the county lines dealers from coming here. That increases the violence in the city. But if you reduce that then you are at risk of allowing county lines into the city.
“Drug dealing needs to be dealt with, and the only way we’re going to deal with it is working hand-in-hand with the community. It cannot be done by the police alone, and this is where I think it’s been going wrong.
“This needs to be worked in a strong partnership way with the residents.”
County lines is where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries (although not exclusively), usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into it by gangs.
Cllr Massey added: “I know that Peterborough has a higher crime rate than Cambridge city does. And I do know you don’t have a county lines problem, you have a homegrown problem, which is good in some ways but bad in others.
“Within Peterborough the tactic needs to be slightly different to Cambridge city because the demographic is different. You haven’t got the county lines there – you are dealing with almost a different kind of turf war when you’re looking at the drug dealers, so you need to look at different tactics.
The PT subsequently carried out in-depth interviews with Liberal Democrat candidate Rupert Moss-Eccardt and Conservative candidate Darryl Preston where Cllr Massey’s views were raised.
Mr Moss-Eccardt responded: “I don’t think Peterborough is being treated differently to large cities on mainline railways.”
He added: “For a large city Peterborough has drug crime – county lines is clearly a problem. Dealing with county lines is going back to the cause of crime, helping younger people avoid being dragged into that scheme.”
Mr Preston said: “I sat on the national county lines taskforce so it’s an area I know reasonably well.
“Certainly my information is county lines are operating in Peterborough, that’s a given. And this is serious organised crime.
“These organised criminals will target quite often vulnerable youngsters to do their drug dealing for them. It manifests itself in all kinds of things – gun crime, serious violence.
“But it also manifests itself in our residents’ daily lives as well because a lot of the volume crime, things like burglary and vehicle crime, a lot of that is driven by the drugs trade. So it does impact us all, which is why it is one of my priorities.
Approached for comment, Cambridgeshire police said it is:
• Committed to dismantling and disrupting drug lines
• Committed to safeguarding
• Committed to ensuring that it makes the county as hostile as possible to drug dealers
• Committed to working with regional and national partners to achieve all of this
Detective Chief Inspector Chris O’Brien, Cambridgeshire lead for tackling county lines, said: “Tackling county lines is a priority in Cambridgeshire and, whilst it is an ongoing issue, we have had many successes in dismantling and disrupting drug lines.
“This includes a joint police operation where more than £20,000 in cash was seized after a suspected county drugs line into Cambridge was targeted.
“Other examples include a week of action held in September where four county lines were dismantled.
“Drug networks bring a whole host of criminality to our county, as well as harm to the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“We remain committed to working with other police forces and partner agencies to make it clear to dealers that their activity will not be tolerated in our county. We are committed to bringing dealers to justice and safeguarding the vulnerable people they prey on.
“We often hear that victims of county lines criminality don’t know they are being exploited or don’t have the confidence to report it because they fear there may be consequences.
“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.”
Anyone with any information about county lines dealing, including concerns about someone being at risk of child exploitation, can report it to police at https://www.cambs.police.uk/information-and-services/Drug-networking where there is also information on what to look out for.