Drug dealers in Essex given 800 years in jail in 2023
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Specialist teams secured more than 800 years in jail sentences for drug dealers and safeguarded more than 400 vulnerable people across a relentless year of action.
Our Serious Violence Unit, set up in July 2020 to dismantle drugs gangs and reduce serious violence in Essex, has adapted its focus throughout 2023.
The unit includes our Operation Raptor teams, who have been at the forefront of work to tackle drug activity in recent years.
But the unit is working ever more closely with partners, such as our Violence and Vulnerability Unit, on safeguarding the exploited adults and children left in the wake of criminal gangs.
This refreshed approach has not halted our enforcement work, with the unit arresting 440 people across the 12 months to November 2023.
Of those arrested, 305 were charged and remanded – a 70% charge rate.
Officers seized 83 weapons, including knives and blades, and took an approximate 6kg in illicit substances off the streets and out of circulation.
Across a busy year, officers also seized £261,000 in criminal profits, executed 168 warrants and secured 804 years in prison sentences for those convicted of drug dealing.
A key tool for Op Raptor teams is the use of gang injunctions, which can be utilised after we build cases on drug dealers before we even make the arrest.
In October, specialist officers secured gang injunctions against 16 people, including eight teenagers, as part of our efforts to disrupt and dismantle gangs in Thurrock.
Investigations into county lines typically involved close analysis of mobile phone usage and text messages linked to those in the supply chain.
For example, in September, Op Raptor officers secured a jail sentence for a drug dealer linked to the KASH line operating in Harlow and Waltham Abbey.
The operation saw drugs collected from Enfield and sold to users in Essex.
On 12 April, officers with our teams executed warrants at six addresses in
Chingford and Waltham Abbey, and made a number of arrests.
As part of our enquiries, an address in Waltham Abbey was identified as being the home of a Class A drug user.
We found the KASH drug line had used this address as a base to supply drugs – a practice commonly known as ‘cuckooing’.
A 22-year-old man, from London, admitted two counts of being concerned in the supply of a Class A substance and appeared for sentence at Chelmsford Crown Court, where he was jailed for 31 months.
'We must lead vulnerable people away from crime'
Detective Superintendent Gary Biddle, who leads the unit, said:
"As a unit and across our many teams, we are never static in how we approach this complex issue. “We have recognised that enforcement can only be one side of our job if we are to make a tangible difference in reducing drug activity and serious violence in Essex. “We have, throughout the year, looked instead at a whole system approach, encompassing safeguarding and the diversion of exploited people away from a self-perpetuating life of crime. “We of course continue to lead the way on enforcement, dismantling complex drug supply operations and locking up hardened criminals. “But we have made real strides in how we deal with those who are also victims, exploited by those further up the chain to do their dirty work. “Be it through cuckooing – the use of a vulnerable person’s home as a base for criminality – or through the exploitation of children as drug runners, we have seen progress in how we work with partners to steer those impacted away from a damaging path.”
This safeguarding work is led by specialist officers within our Op Raptor team, alongside colleagues from the Prepare, Prevent and Protect Unit (PPP).
Throughout September, officers ran Operation Bumble deployments in Braintree, Chelmsford, Grays, Thurrock, Basildon and Stansted Airport.
Op Bumble began in October 2022 to highlight the signs that children are potentially being taken advantage of by County Lines gangs.
The gangs groom youngsters by offering them money or gifts and then force them to courier drugs and cash to unfamiliar places.
Public spaces like bus and train stations, fast food restaurants, hotels and roadside services can be where young victims are most visible.
The latest deployment at Stansted Airport saw 250 vehicles stopped and more than 300 taxi passengers given safety and welfare checks. One arrest was made for a drugs offence.
Across the year, we have facilitated 25 Op Bumble deployments, handing out around 2,700 leaflets, making seven referrals to partner agencies and offering 50 training sessions.
Last month (November), our safeguarding officers were recognised as some of the first nationally to utilise Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders to tackle gang exploitation.
The orders were placed on six individuals in Essex with gang affiliations and will be in place for three to five years.
They place strict conditions on who the individuals can associate with or contact, where they can go and what they can post on social media.
Anyone breaching their conditions faces arrest.
In the 12 months to the end of November 2023, our specialist PPP team has:
Attempted to engage with a total of 290 people.
Positively engaged with an average of 58 people per month.
Seen that 69% of those engaged with did not go on to commit further crime.
Alongside our Op Raptor safeguarding team, submitted 460 referrals to partner agencies including social care, housing, re-route and drug/alcohol services.
Provided 46 educational sessions to agencies, reaching 2,293 people.
Using data to prioritise certain locations, worked with our Joint Education Team to deliver 219 educational inputs, reaching 10,692 students.
How do we solve this issue?
Det Supt Biddle added:
“We cannot just arrest and charge our way out of this problem. “Our teams recognise we need to work closely with our partners in social care, education and especially with our Violence and Vulnerability Unit to get the preventative steps in place to steer people away from a life of drug-related crime. “County line gangs thrive on exploiting the vulnerable. “It is vital we treat those who have been exploited as victims and seek to connect them with the support services which are readily available and willing to help.”
Can we help?
Are you worried that a friend or someone you know may be being exploited through County Lines or Organised Crime Group activity?
Maybe they are returning home late, staying out all night or even going missing for days or weeks at a time.
Are they suddenly being secretive about who they are talking to or where they are going?
Or perhaps you’ve noticed they have large amounts of money on them, or new clothing, jewellery or phones they wouldn’t be able to afford.
Through Fearless, you can pass on information 100% anonymously to get them help.