In just one week, police in Sussex have arrested 29 people, seized more than £15,000 worth of drugs and taken 13 weapons off the streets in their continuing battle to combat so-called 'county lines' dealers.
During the week of 14-19 September officers also seized 47 mobile phones and visited dozens of addresses where they think vulnerable people are being exploited by criminal gangs.
The force has released footage of one raid in Horsham on September 18, where three arrests were made for drug possession and £500 in cash was seized.
On September 15, officers raided six addresses across Hastings and St Leonards.
Two people were arrested, crack cocaine and around £6,000 in cash were seized, together with £10,000 worth of designer clothing.
What is 'county lines'?
'County lines' is a term used by police and partner agencies to refer to drug networks, both gangs and organised crime groups, from large urban areas such as London, who use children, young people and vulnerable adults to carry out illegal activity on their behalf.
Gangs dealing drugs is not a new issue but the extent to which criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, as well as the increasing use of violence, has become an inherent part of it through 'county lines' making it especially damaging.
In combined Sussex and British Transport Police operations at Worthing and Brighton railway stations on Wednesday and Friday a total of 56 people were stopped and spoken to about 'county lines'.
Two arrests were made at Brighton for drugs supply offences, and one of them for possession of large hunting knife.
Many other people at both stations were engaged in wider discussion about the issue and the steps they can take to help.
During the operation at Brighton railway station, officers saw a 16-year-old girl from Buckinghamshire, who was particularly vulnerable to exploitation and safeguarding action was taken to help protect her.The West Sussex Community Investigations Team carried out a joint operation with the Metropolitan Police in South London on September 16 which resulted in the arrest and charge of a 20-year-old man for being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs in West Sussex.
On September 17, officers searched an address in Church Road in Hove, where they arrested a man and a woman on suspicion of possession of cannabis and cocaine with intent to supply.
Drugs with an estimated street value of £10,000 were seized.
Detective Superintendent Stuart Hale, the force's lead on combating county lines, said: "Even during the recent lockdown we have been continuing every day to disrupt dealers who try to deal dangerous drugs across our communities and we target those who use children to sell drugs or those who buy drugs from children. We investigate and prosecute, working relentlessly and targeting those who would bring harm to local people, including often the most vulnerable."
The pandemic actually gave police extra opportunities to disrupt dealers.
Reduced transport in the early stages of the pandemic made it harder for gangs to move their products which made them more expensive.
Due to a reduction in people out and about, there was less demand on police in the early part of the pandemic which meant they had more time to focus on tackling 'county lines' making it riskier for criminals to transport goods by road and public transport.As restrictions have lifted, police have started to see those involved in this criminality trying to return to their normal methods of operation as the streets are busier, making their criminality less visible.The areas in Sussex most effected by the drug trade from London are the larger coastal towns, with established drugs markets that can be exploited locally, including Hastings, Eastbourne, Worthing, Bognor, and Brighton, but also towns such as Crawley.There are currently 90 'deal lines' in operation in Sussex at any one time, often overlapping with other force areas, but that figure fluctuates on a regular basis.
A ‘deal line’ is the dedicated mobile phone line to take orders from drug users.Members of the public can also help with tackling 'county lines'.
If somebody shows signs of mistreatment, or a child seems to be travelling long distances or is unfamiliar with a locality, you can report suspicions to local police on 101 or via their website - or to British Transport Police if you see something on the railway network.
There are also many sources of further advice and assistance to help combat the harm caused by drugs.
Safe Space Sussex takes you to all the local organisations who provide support for those affected by drugs misuse.