County Lines gangs hiring professional music producers to entice child drug dealers across Leeds
County Lines drug gangs in Leeds have hired professional music producers to make YouTube videos in a bid to target and recruit children across the city to deal cocaine and heroin, it can be revealed.
Dealers are also using bribes on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to target young people, the Head of Crime at West Yorkshire Police has warned.
Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Twiggs said: "Social media is featuring very heavily in how these gangs are targeting children and the more awareness we can raise the better.
"We have seen instances in Leeds where one organised crime group hired a professional music producer and got a rapper to speak about how fantastic being involved in this sort of crime is.
"The video featured bottle of Ciroc vodka and champagne to appeal to teenagers.
"Instagram is also being used to target young people. You get these gangs sending pictures of themselves with lots of money and designer clothes. In one instance a picture was sent on Instagram to a young lad of a big wad of cash with the caption 'this is my pillow for the night'.
The lines are used to advertise drugs for sale and mass text messages are sent to users letting them know where and when they can buy drugs. The lines become valuable protected “brands”. County lines is highly lucrative and exceptionally violent.
Figures released exclusively to The Yorkshire Evening Post reveal there are 80 plus groups across West Yorkshire involved in the supply and dealing of drugs. Nine of which are specifically linked to County Lines with the majority in the Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield area.
Police in West Yorkshire have also flagged 87 people as potential child criminal exploitation perpetrators, with a further 339 vulnerable adults and children at risk of criminal exploitation - 111 of which are linked to County Lines.
Det Ch Supt Twiggs said: "For parents and school staff we advise that if they haven't got an eye on children in a positive way, someone may have a negative eye on them.
"Some of the children already targeted have come from good homes and people ask 'How can little Jonny get involved in something like this?
"Parents also need to be aware that children with no criminal history are a target because criminals believe they are easier to slip through the police radar.
"These dealers are even targeting universities - they are an untapped network and a group of people that can easily be exploited. Some of the young people are away from home for the first time and they have not got that support network around them that they are used to.
"They are also hard up on funds and this is wrongly seen as an easy way to make money."
The Head of Crime is also warning that "anyone" can become a victim of County Lines.
Det Ch Supt Twiggs said: "There is no one profile and anyone can become a victim. More often than not these groups will pray on the vulnerable, so those that come from broken homes or socially deprived areas.
"They can look for someone falling out of school and someone who has no money, or perhaps some in a pupil referral unit or someone who is being home-schooled as they may not necessarily be challenged by the education authorities."
Statistics released to The Yorkshire Evening Post also reveal how criminals are targeting vulnerable people in their own homes and using their premises to store and sell drugs in an offence known as cuckooing.
Cuckooing victims are often drug users themselves, and people who are vulnerable due to a mental or physical disability, their age or lifestyle.
There are four different types of cuckooing. This includes parasitic cuckooing - where someone's home is taken over by force; quasi cuckooing - taken over by exploiting the victim; coupling, where the cuckooer will form a sexual relationship with the victim; and local, where a localised offender will identify a property close to their operating base.
In the last eight weeks, 31 properties across West Yorkshire have been linked to cuckooing.
Det Chf Supt Twiggs said: "County Lines is a big problem here as it is everywhere.
"Out of the 43 forces in the country, all of them are affected, but people need to know we are aware of the issue and collectively we are doing everything we can to tackle the problem and bring perpetrators to justice."