WEST Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson is calling on the Home Secretary, Priti Patel to take urgent action to reduce the number of young people becoming involved in selling drugs on county lines.
Mr Jamieson, a former headteacher, has focused on working with excluded children to prevent gangs selling drugs by exploiting youngsters.
County lines involves gangs in major cities using children as young as 11 to sell heroin and crack cocaine over a network of dedicated mobile phones.
Mr Jamieson said he believes the main way to tackle county lines is for the Home Secretary to work with the Secretary of State for Education to develop a strategy to reduce the number of young people being excluded from school becoming involved in criminality.
Over the past few months, Mr Jamieson has called on the government to work to reduce the number of young people being excluded from school.
Growing evidence, he says, shows that the most vulnerable children in society are more likely to be either permanently excluded from school, while research shows those excluded from mainstream education are at significantly greater risk of becoming involved in or affected by serious youth violence.
Those who have been excluded from school are among the most vulnerable in society and are more likely to be groomed by criminal gangs and end up on county lines.
The PCC has previously written to the prime minister, home secretary and policing minister to highlight the link between those who have been excluded from school are more likely to become involved in crime.
Mr Jamieson said: “I have been saying for some time now that what lies at the heart of county lines, and the young people who get involved in it is the fact that almost all of them are excluded from school. This is an issue I have raised with government on a number of occasions and also at Downing Street.
“Over the new year I recently wrote to the Prime Minister, calling on him to take action to ensure that when a young person is excluded from school, that good alternative provision is in place and that they don’t simply end up on the streets to be preyed upon by county lines gangs. As a former head teacher I know first hand the support our young people need, that sadly many are no longer getting.
“More action needs to be taken to crack down on the gangs exploiting these young people. But it is vital that we start addressing the root causes of county lines and put an end to children being drawn into them in the first place.
“Reducing the number of exclusions, by increasing pastoral support in schools would be a good place to start. For those young people that have to be excluded, a proper alternative educational provision is essential to help keep them out of crime and harm”.
At the Conservative party conference in 2019, the home secretary pledged £20million for a co-ordination centre to crack down on county lines.
Responding to the PCC’s calls, a government spokesperson said: “We have invested in the National County Lines Co-ordination Centre whose work has safeguarded over 3,000 vulnerable people since it opened over a year ago. The recruitment of 20,000 police officers over the next three years will work to combat these ruthless criminal gangs.
“The government is also working on an ambitious programme of action on behaviour, exclusion and alternative provision which will back head teachers to use exclusion when they need to, enable schools to support children at risk of exclusion, and ensure that excluded children continue to receive a good education.”