POLICE Forces and the National Crime Agency are getting a better understanding of ‘county lines’ drug offending, according to a new report.

However, current policing models are too disjointed to allow for the most effective response.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspected how county lines drug trafficking is dealt with at local, regional and national levels. Although it identified many instances of good practice, the Inspectorate concluded there needs to be a more coherent and integrated system of national tasking, intelligence sharing and response.

The subsequent report, Both sides of the coin: The police and National Crime Agency’s response to vulnerable people in ‘county lines’ drug offending, highlighted the following achievements:

• the establishment, in 2018, of the national county lines co-ordination centre (NCLCC);

• effective use of modern slavery legislation by police forces;

• the good use of ‘intensification weeks’, where the NCLCC co-ordinates law enforcement activity during dedicated weeks of action against county lines networks; and

• good practice in relation to police bail.

HMICFRS warned, however, that the lack of a fully integrated, national response meant that investigations are often less effective than they should be.

The report also noted concerns regarding organised crime mapping, competing priorities and the limited use of telecommunication restriction orders.

Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Phil Gormley said:

“County lines offending is a pressing issue for law enforcement in the UK. It is a cross-border phenomenon involving criminals working across regions, to deal drugs and exploit vulnerable people.

“To tackle cross-border crime, there needs to be a cross-border response. Our inspection revealed that policing is currently too fragmented to best tackle county lines offending. Although we did see many excellent examples of collaboration, we concluded that the current approach does not allow for the level of coherence needed.

“Our report therefore contains a list of recommendations designed to facilitate the creation of a national, co-ordinated response to county lines offences.”