The nationwide expansion of drug gangs

Drug gangs are expanding their operations from large city centres such as London, Birmingham and Manchester into smaller towns and rural areas. To do so they are using a new business model referred to as ‘county lines’ – dedicated mobile phone drug deal lines which local drug dealers in smaller towns can use to order drugs from the suppliers in the city centres. According to a recent report by the National Crime Agency, there are over 1000 established county line networks which are each capable of making profits of £800, 000 a year.

These lines are so profitable that gangs increasingly resort to violence to protect them, so this county line model of drug gang expansion probably goes a long way to explain the 50% increase in knife crime since 2015. In fact, a spike in knife crime in a small town or city is believed to be an indicator that a new drug line has been opened up.

How county lines work

Drug gangs in larger cities establish branded mobile phone lines using ‘burner phones’ which are disposable and anonymous, and these are then used to send out group messages to the local dealers around the country offering what drugs are for sale, which is mainly heroine and crack cocaine. Frequently there are special offers such as two for the price of one deals. The drugs are delivered by runners who also collect payment from the local dealers.

Children and drug lines

School-aged children, typically aged 15-17, but as young as 11, are usually used to deliver the drugs and collect payment. The charity Safer London estimates that 4000 children from London are involved. Sometimes these children might stay away in a drug-hub for an extended period, which is known as ‘going country’ or ‘going OT’ (out there).

county lines.png

The children recruited are usually vulnerable, having been excluded from school or from broken families, and many are drug users themselves. They are roped into the gangs by the lure of financial reward, or some might be debt bondage because of their drug habits. Once in, they are exposed to a violent lifestyle and effectively take all the risks for the upstream dealers.

NB – from a legal perspective, the use of children as drug mules now counts as child trafficking, so anyone caught being involved in this is likely to get a very lengthy spell in jail.

Cuckooing

A particularly insidious aspect of these drug networks is a process known as cuckooing…. Where a new local recruit’s house in a rural or coastal taken over by a drug dealer from one of the main centres and that house is turned into a local dealing hub, used to store and possibly manufacture drugs, and sell drugs.

One way this can escalate is that the local dealer is allowed to get into debt, and then has their house taken over as a means to repay this.

Such victims will often be drug addicts with mental health issues and are also likely to be in poverty.

Countering the problem of drug gangs and drug lines 

This is an enormous problem, and its growing fast: 75% of police forces believed new lines had been opened up in 2017 and it’s estimated that the 1000 lines in existence are worth £500 million a year. With that kind of coverage and that amount of money involved, tackling this isn’t going to be easy!

A new National County Lines Coordination Unit has recently been established so the 43 police forces in England and Wales can easily share information, and the police are using anti trafficking and anti-slavery laws to punish the dealers.

In a week of raids in January police arrested 600 people and referred 600 children and 400 adults to safeguarding authorities. More than £200 000 in cash and 140 weapons were also seized.

drug gangs.png

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is obviously highly relevant to the crime and deviance specification. Probably the most obvious links are to right and left realism, and to my mind it’s a great example that proves the limitations of the right realist approach – the nature of this crime is that it’s hidden, and so right realist crime control techniques will probably be ineffective in controlling it.

It seems to offer support for left realism – relative deprivation and marginalisation are the root causes, and maybe addressing these are the only way we’re going to see a reduction in drug related crime in the future?

Sources

NCA 2018 report on drug gangs

NCA county lines report 2017

The Week, 9th Feb 2019

 

 

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Why is Crime Increasing Again?

The latest crime figures show an increase in the overall number of crimes committed in England and Wales, for the year ending March 2018. The overall numbers of crimes have increased from approximately 5.8 million in 2016-17 to 6 million crimes in 2017-18 (excluding ‘computer misuse’).

While this may seem like a relatively small increase, this follows a 7 year downward trend in the overall crime rate. And if we drill down into different types of crime, we find that some crime categories have seen dramatic rises in recent years: Robbery is up 30%, and knife crime is up 16% for example.

These figures are taken from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, a victim survey which is widely regarded as having greater validity as a measure of crime compared to Police Recorded Crime Statistics.

As you might expect, the mainstream newspapers have been all over this. Typically the press blames the move away from more authoritarian forms of crime control associated with Right Realism and blames soft-touch Left Realist style policies for the increase in crime.

The Daily Mail has recently reported on how rural crime, as well as urban crime is spiraling out of control. The Sunday Telegraph has blamed the government’s ‘too soft’ approach to crime control, which focuses on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The Independent commented that the Tories might be blame for this increase in crime because they have cut funding to the police, resulting in fewer officers.

However, the theory that ‘soft touch’ approaches and fewer police officers may well be insufficient to explain why crime is increasing. For example, police numbers have been going down for years, while crime has also been going down:

The truth is probably more complex: it might just be that there are different causes of crime in different areas, and different causes of different crimes…. so perhaps we should steer clear of over-generalizing!

Left Realist Explanations for Ethnic Differences in Crime

Left Realists, Lea and Young suggest that ethnic minorities are disadvantaged in comparison with other groups in society, and this is especially true for young black males who have much higher levels of unemployment. In comparison with their peers from other ethnic groups, they are much less likely to be successful in the labour market and so suffer lower wages and thus higher levels of relative deprivation.

Young ethnic minority males are also more likely to experience marginalisation because they are under-represented at the highest levels of society, in government, political parties and trades unions for example.

 

Lea and young argue it would be surprising if there were not higher crime levels among those groups which experienced higher levels of deprivation and marginalisation.

Evaluating Left Realism

Read through the following two items, you should be able to find at least two reasons why Left Realism may be inadequate to explain the higher rates of offending by Black and Asian people.

Item A: Statistics on ethnicity and relative deprivation

Some ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of poverty than white people. According to the Labour Force Survey 2004/05 20% of White British households are in income poverty compared to 25% of Indian, 30% of Black Caribbean, 45% of Black African, 55% of Pakistani and 65% of Bangladeshi households.

In terms of social class, 42% of White British students are from homes in the top two social classes, compared to 37% of Black Caribbean, 36% of Black African, 29% of Indian, 19% of Pakistani and only 9% of Bangladeshi students.

Item B: The Home Office Affairs Committee 2006-7 Report on young black people and the criminal justice system

This recent report seems to offer broad support for Left Realism, but also suggests there are other factors which need to be taken into account in order to explain variations in patterns of offending by ethnicity…

Data gaps prevent us from building a comprehensive picture of young black people’s overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. However, the evidence we received suggests young black people are overrepresented as suspects for certain crimes such as robbery, drugs offences and—in some areas—firearms offences. Young black people are also more likely to be victims of violent crimes.

Some of our witnesses were concerned that the media distorts perceptions of young black people’s involvement in crime. Research commissioned by this Committee contradicted this view, indicating that most members of the public reject stereotyping as regards young black people’s involvement in crime.

Social exclusion is a key underlying cause of overrepresentation. Eighty per cent of Black African and Black Caribbean communities live in Neighbourhood Renewal Fund areas. Deprivation directly fuels involvement in some types of offence—such as acquisitive crime—and also has an important impact on educational achievement and the profile of the neighbourhood young people will live in. The level of school exclusions appears to be directly related to educational underachievement and both are linked to involvement in the criminal justice system. Witnesses also emphasised factors within black communities which help exacerbate disadvantage and fuel involvement in the criminal justice system.

They drew attention to a lack of father involvement and to other parenting issues. In the perceived absence of alternative routes to success, some young people also actively choose to emulate negative and violent lifestyles popularised in music and film. Criminal justice system factors play an important role in promoting overrepresentation.

There is some evidence to support allegations of direct or indirect discrimination in policing and the youth justice system. However, the perception as well as the reality of discrimination has an impact. Lack of confidence in the criminal justice system may mean some young black people take the law into their own hands or carry weapons in an attempt to distribute justice and ensure their own personal safety.