DMU research finds drug gangs adapt to avoid lockdown restrictions

By Beatriz Abreu Ferreira

A study by university teams into the impact of Covid-19 has found drug gangs have made special adaptations during the spring lockdown.

The focus of the study by the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab in collaboration with the De Montfort University (DMU) School of Law is county lines offending.

These involve drug supply networks where drugs are transported across different areas, usually by children or vulnerable people who are manipulated by gangs.

The lockdown did not change the demand for drug dealing, so young people continued to supply illegal substances, being forced to take trains to city or town suburbs.

Professor Dave Walsh of DMU Law School said: “Before lockdown the drug runners were really hard to spot on the trains because too many people were using them.

“But during the first lockdown, trains were reduced in number, and there were also very few people on them.

“So the drug runners were easy pickings for two reasons: they were sticking out, as no one else was on the trains, plus there was more police spotting because the police were not doing other work, like policing the night time economy, as in lockdown there is no need for that type of policing.”

So the gangs’ supply methods were changed.

Research has now identified a preference by the criminals towards private and hired vehicles, with bulk deliveries to provincial areas.

Methods of delivery and payment have also adapted, for example with dealers refusing to accept cash and using local children as runners rather than children from outside the area.

“We found many adaptations like instead of making people travel regularly, they put them in budget hotels, or use delivery uniforms and supermarket uniforms to pose as someone who was expected to be seen on the street.

“They have also started dealing in supermarket carparks because they are still busy and are easier to blend in.

“Our ultimate aim is to help effect new practices for police and other professionals working to break up the county lines operators who have been quick to adapt to take advantage of the pandemic,” Professor Walsh added.

A team of academics from DMU School of Law is also working on new research to examine what difference the use of telephone or video calls, as opposed to face to face participation, has on the fairness and effectiveness of police interviews, carried out with witnesses, victims and suspects of crime.