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Officers from Merseyside Police and British Transport Police joined forces to tackle county lines drug supply on our roads and railway lines earlier this week, Tuesday, 21 July.
Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse also paid a visit to Liverpool Lime Street station to join officers during the operation, which saw them crack down on County Lines Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) responsible for cross border drugs supply and the criminal exploitation of young and vulnerable people.
Project Medusa is a Merseyside led initiative which saw 26 officers deployed to carry out policing activity at various train stations across Merseyside, and ten dedicated officers from the Roads Policing Unit patrolled city roads and used ANPR checks to target those involved in wholesale County Lines drug supply and exploitation. The project is supported by Home Office funding, which is part of a wider £20 million County Lines programme in 2020/21.
Police were also joined by Catch22, who are there for any young people immediately following a stop or arrest, offering long-term support to exit County Lines.
In total, Tuesday's operation saw 75 stop searches carried out and five people arrested for various offences, including drug driving and breach of a harassment order.
In addition to this, three safeguarding referrals were made and over 70 vehicle checks were conducted.
This comes following two days of policing activity earlier this month together with Cheshire Police and Greater Manchester Police, which saw a further 228 people stop searched and 13 arrested for offences including drug supply, across major transport links in Liverpool, Southport, Kirkby and Wigan.
Assistant Chief Constable Ian Critchley said: “Project Medusa was established by Merseyside Police to target those involved County Lines drug supply after the force received £640,000 in government funding in November 2019.
“We have now received a further £3.2 million in government funding for the year ahead (2020/21) which will allow us to continue working with our partners to target criminal gangs that supply drugs across borders and exploit young and vulnerable people.
“In its first six months, Project Medusa saw 61 county lines closed, over 330 arrests for drug possession and supply offences and 60 warrants executed across Merseyside and other forces. Since the beginning of 2020, officers have also carried out over 1000 stop searches, safeguarded 21 adults and 82 children and seized around £100,000 in cash. Through Project Medusa and different types of operational activity, we will continue work closely with British Transport Police and other forces to effectively disrupt and in turn bring down OCGs involved in County Lines drug supply and protect vulnerable people that have been exploited by these criminal gangs.
“These OCG’s are responsible for the widespread distribution of illegal drugs in other parts of the country, so working closely with British Transport Police and other forces is vital to effectively disrupt the criminal activity and close the lines.
“We also work closely with partner agencies and organisations including local authorities, Everton in the Community, LFC Foundation and Catch22 to protect victims that have been exploited, as well as educate young people around the dangers of County Lines drugs gangs and provide interventions to prevent young people becoming involved in County Lines.
“There is no place in our communities for those involved in County Lines drug supply and we will continue to relentlessly pursue those involved in this criminality, protect vulnerable people at risk of being exploited and seize drugs to prevent them reaching our streets.”
Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “It was hugely impressive to see first-hand Merseyside Police’s work to tackle county lines, including their targeting of road and rail networks used by drug dealers.
“This is a crucial part of our wider £25million investment in measures to protect communities from ruthless criminal gangs.
“Merseyside and police forces across the country have our full backing in cracking down on this pernicious threat.”
Catch22 Merseyside Senior Service Coordinator Vikki Mckenna said: “When young people are stopped or arrested for being involved in County Lines, it is a difficult and scary time for them. Not only are they already highly vulnerable, given the fact they have got involved in this cycle as young teenagers, they often have no family support or guidance. On release, these young people also face further risks from those they have been exploited by.
“Until Merseyside Police and Catch22 started working closely together, there were many missed opportunities to intervene for those being exploited. Now Police are able to carry out these operations, while we can be there for these vulnerable individuals during a significant juncture in their life.
“These young people can talk directly to us, independently of police, and get support to keep themselves safe. They will often take up Catch22’s support because we can give long-term support – it’s often the only safe relationship they’ve had in a long time.”