The county of Bedfordshire presents several unique challenges brought about by its location, various travel links and growing population. As such we encounter an increasingly complex mix and volume of crime, including serious violence, drugs and county lines activity.
Boson are committed to dismantling organised crime groups and protecting the wider community from the violence these crimes often cause.
Gangs and youth violence
It’s no secret that there are gangs operating in and across the county of Bedfordshire. We are one of only a small number of areas nationally where local gangs export county drugs lines to other parts of the country.
From organised crime groups fuelling the issue of county lines drug activity to criminal gangs carrying out violent attacks on one another, this kind of criminal activity poses significant risks to all our communities.
Boson and the force’s community policing teams continue to conduct high visibility patrols in hotspot areas for things like drug dealing and gang activity.
Led by Boson, and with the support of other teams, Sparkler patrols aim to tackle the root causes of violence. In the last year alone, officers conducting these dedicated operations seized more than £20,000 in cash, almost 30 weapons and thousands of pounds worth of illicit drugs, while carrying out on average 200 hours of patrols each month.
‘It’s just a bit of weed’
Drugs, violence and exploitation go hand in hand.
Often, we are challenged about our focus on drugs and in some ways it’s understandable given the public’s external perspective.
However, several shootings and stabbings here in Bedfordshire in recent years can be linked to clashes between gang members, or drugs gangs trying to steal each other’s products.
Drug dealing, county lines and crimes of this nature have what can be referred to as an iceberg effect; on the surface it’s ‘just a bit of weed’, but beneath that is anti-social behaviour, violent crimes and vulnerable people exploited out of their homes, their liberty and in some cases their lives.
These gangs will often use children as drug runners to sell their drugs, move products from place to place or to store and hide weapons.
Most children we see exploited through the drugs trade are dealing cannabis, which can start these young people on a downward spiral towards a life of crime and violence.
These same gangs also take advantage of and exploit other vulnerable people, such as those with addiction issues or poor mental health.
County lines gangs will often take over their homes and use it as a base for their criminal enterprise, reducing the risk to them of being caught by the police - this practice is known as cuckooing.
Spotting the signs
Vulnerable adults such as those with drink or drug addiction and poor mental health are targeted by criminal gangs to commit crime. This can include begging, shoplifting or benefit fraud.
Signs to spot
Won't talk to anyone
Living in poor conditions with many other people
Mental Health issues and self harm
Signs of injury and abuse
Fear and mistrust of people like doctors and the police
Can't explain where their money comes from
No identification documents
Drug dealers will take over the home of a vulnerable person in order to use it as a base for their criminal work.
Signs to spot
People entering the property or lots and cars and bikes outside
Anti-social behaviour and litter outside
People coming and going at strange times
Damage to the property door, or the door being propped open
Unknown people pressing buttons to gain access to the building
You have not seen the resident recently, or when you have, they have been anxious or distracted
The resident will not open the door of their property
People can be trafficked into forced labour in a variety of typically low paid jobs. This includes manual labour on farms and construction sites, in factories or at nail bars, restaurants and car washes.
Signs to spot
No or limited access to wages
Relies on employer for transport and accommodation
Paying for tools, food and accommodation via wage deductions
Forced to live in a certain place
Poor or cramped living conditions
Long hours or working seven days a week
Lack of documentation by their employer
Children and young people can be sexually abused for money, power or status. They may received things like drugs, alcohol and gifts in return for sexual activities, or be sexually exploited online.
Signs to spot
Lots of phone or online messages they are secretive about
Regularly drinking and taking illegal drugs
Gifts they can't afford, such as clothes and jewellery
Sudden and unusual mood changes
Trying to hide injuries
Going missing or frequently returning home late
Changes in friends, tastes or behaviour
Organised crime is the driver for much of the violence, exploitation and anti-social behaviour which damages our communities in Bedfordshire. If we stop organised crime, we would all be a lot safer.
Spot the signs
Wealth and expensive possessions beyond what someone can afford
Multiple mobile phones or specialist 'encrypted' phones which look similar but slightly different to normal handsets
Large amounts of cash
Luxury items such as jewellery and clothes which can be easily paid for using cash
Hidden weapons at their home
Business or financial services being used to hide or launder money
People can be coerced into sexual activity such as sex work or brothels or stripping on the web cams. Victims can be trafficked into the UK from places like Eastern Europe or the Far East.
Signs to spot
Adverts offering sexual services from a particular nationality
Victims may own very few items of clothing
Only knows 'sexual language' in English
Tattoos or other marking indicating 'ownership' by their exploiters
Victims of crime such as abduction, assault or sexual offences
Money from clients goes to someone else
Many men coming and going from the same address
Curtains always being closed and a door entry security camera
County lines gangs will target children to sell drugs and carry weapons. They can be sent across the country, travelling by train, bus or taxi.
Signs to spot
Regularly going missing
Having expensive items like clothes, cash and trainers
Lots of different mobile phones
Relationships with older people
Phrases like going country, going cunch, trap house, plugging and bando
Lots of train and bus tickets
Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU)
Knowing that we can't simply arrest our way out of these issues, we've been working closely with the county's Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit to ensure that young people being exploited by these criminal gangs are fully supported to break away from a life of crime.
Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) is a network of agencies and groups that aim to tackle the root causes of things like gang membership and prevent young people from falling into gang criminality and exploitation.