"I hate drug dealers"
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PC Emma Ridings is one of our Operation Raptor officers. Operation Raprot are a specialist team of Essex Police officers who dismantle county line drug gangs.
These gangs are from outside of Essex – usually London – and sell drugs in our county, bringing with them violence, antisocial behaviour, and exploitation of young people and vulnerable adults.
Emma joined the Operation Raptor team in Grays, in October 2019.
She said: “I hate drug dealers. I have seen first-hand the effects crack cocaine and heroin have on people. It’s disgusting.
“I was previously in local policing for 14 years. I joined the Op Raptor team because I like being proactive and I like catching drug dealers.
“When I worked in Harlow, I remember arresting a woman who was actually really lovely. She had a family, children, a husband, and a good job, but she was taking recreational drugs.
“I met a her a year later and she was vile. She was rude and horrible, she had lost her family and was living in a drugs den, She had gone from hero to zero.
“When I worked in Basildon, there was a man who was always coming to police attention because he was a crack user.
“But he managed to get off the drugs. The next time I saw him he had put on weight, moved out of the area and had a family.
“I have seen both sides of how drugs affects users.
“When you’re on drugs, you do anything for money. Some people steal, some people rob. Some people rob their families, some people use their benefits to pay for it.
“I feel a bit sorry for some of the users because I generally think it’s not what they want to be doing. Only one in ten of drug users want to be on drugs and they have to feed their habit. Sometimes it’s a £100 to £150 a day habit.
“I think if we can take out the drug dealers, it makes it difficult for drug users to buy, which will help them get off the drugs.
“My team and I only know of one person in Thurrock who likes to be on drugs.
“A lot of users don’t want to be dependent on drugs because they feel ashamed by it. It ruins their lives.
“I know we’re never going to be able to stop drug dealing completely but if we make an impact, I know we’re helping and doing our job.”
Drug dealing is sometimes seen as an easy way to make lots of money to live a luxury lifestyle, but the reality is very different.
“There is the high end, the man at the top, who sits in his house with all his designer trainers, coats and watches,” said Emma.
“You have the middle man, who lives with his parents or rents a room.
“And then you’ve got the rest, who live in proper squalor.”
When dealers do inevitably get caught, it’s not a surprise to them.
Emma said: “When you’re dealing drugs, you’re always running the risk of being caught and going to prison.
“Where there are drug gangs, there is violence. If you are going to be involved in drugs, you’ve got to expect backlash from other dealers and violence, and also prison.”
Debt is also used as a way to control people.
“Dealers will say ‘have a bag of weed, it’s only a tenner’. They they’ll expect you to run a package because it’s a debt,” said Emma.
“They’ll also plan a robbery on their own runners, so they will then owe them for the drugs they’ve lost.”
Those who go to prison will also owe the gangs money for the drugs that have been seized by police.
That can lead to them continuing to sell drugs once they get out of prison, keeping them in a vicious circle.
That’s why making sure people understand the risks of getting involved in this lifestyle in the first place and steering them away from it is so important.
But often those who get pulled in don’t realise the danger they’re putting themselves in.
County lines drug gangs recruit young people by initially offering money, friendship, new trainers, clothes or alcohol.
“They will tell children ‘we will look after you, we’re your family now’ but it will end in disaster,” said Emma.
She advises parents and guardians to be on the look out for any unusual behaviour change in their children.
“It could be they’re coming home with new clothes or gadgets or not coming home at all,” she said.
“If you have concerns and your child’s behaviour, mannerisms and appearance changes, and you think your child is being exploited, please tell us.
“We will try and educate young people and prevent them from getting drawn into gangs before it’s too late.
“I think it’s important for parents to know where their children are and ask the question ‘who are you with?’
“If you can learn who their friends are and question them when they start mentioning new friends and going to new places, as much as your child might hate you, it’s important.”
The Raptor teams have safeguarding officers who are specially trained to work with victims of gangs.
They also work with a wide range of organisations including Justice and Care, youth offending teams, social care, schools and colleges, the probation service to work with young people to steer them away from gangs and help those who are already involved to get out.
But it’s not just young people who the gangs target. They also target vulnerable adults, often befriending them so they can take over their homes from where they can sell drugs.
“We have reports of this tactic, which is known as cuckooing,” said Emma.
“Generally they’ll target an elderly person or vulnerable person who may have mental health issues or learning difficulties.
“It starts with them maybe having someone knock on the door saying ‘can I have a tenner?’ then ‘can I come in?’
“Drug users also get cuckooed. Someone will say to than, ‘I will give you a tenner if I can stay’.
“If you’ve got a vulnerable neighbour and start seeing people coming and going, seeing things are different, let us know because they might not be able to alert us.
“We don’t just catch drug dealers, we help people and try to prevent offences from happening in the first place.”
Information from the community is vital to help police build evidence against criminals and put them before the courts.
“A high percentage of offenders plead guilty at court because we’ve got the evidence against them and they can’t refute it,” said Emma.
“My work gives me good job satisfaction because I am helping people and locking up criminals.
“I care about the people whose lives are really at risk because of the harm drug dealing causes them.
“We’re never going to stop it completely but we’re doing our hardest.”