Police perceptions and the investigative challenges of young people involved in County Lines drug networks

Research Institution / Organisation

Canterbury Christ Church University

Principal Researcher

Peter Emanuel

Level of Research


Project Start Date

September 2020

Research Context

​County Lines is a term used to describe  drug trafficking methodologies in which urban drug dealers traffic illicit drugs, predominantly heroin and crack cocaine, into rural and provincial areas. As well as being perceived as inherently more violent than other drug supply methodologies, County Lines networks have been found to use children and vulnerable people to provide labour for their enterprises. Research has found indications of grooming, intimidation, exploitation, coercion and control in the relationships between the dealers and the labourers. Young people especially may be shown or provided with expensive designer goods, cash or provided with cannabis on credit in order to make them indebted to the County Lines organisation and thereby trap them in debt bondage as a form of indentured labour. County Lines labourers are employed to traffic drugs, cash and weapons and therefore can commit numerous serious criminal offences. Due to the unequal power dynamics and their vulnerabilities, they may also be victims of offences such as human trafficking, child abduction, modern slavery, false imprisonment, assault and others. Due to the levels of intimidation and grooming that occur, labourers often reject the label of victimhood and also do not fulfil the ideal victim type due to their dual status as both victim and offender. This creates problems for police officers investigating County Lines offences, dealing with children and vulnerable people who have committed County Lines offences and officers responsible for safeguarding such individuals.

The investigative problems officers face and their perceptions and understanding of children and young people involved in County Lines offending is under researched. The aim of this project is to capture the voice of the practitioner which is largely missing from the academic research into County Lines by undertaking qualitative interviews with investigators and proactive officers involved in the investigation of County Lines. By doing so the research aims to identify areas of best practice and to add to the research literature on an emergent issue.


This project is supported by the College of Policing bursary scheme

Research Methodology

​The research design is qualitative. The first stage will look at training and guidance issued to police officers, including County Lines specific training given to probationer police officers and trainee detectives participating in the Initial Crime Investigators’ Development Course (ICIDP). It will also look at guidance such as the CPS County Lines Typology, College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice on investigations.

The second stage will consist of semi-structured interviews with police officers involved in the police response to County Lines or engaged in safeguarding roles. The design aims to interview 12 to 15 officers, predominantly of constable rank. This will include detective constables responsible for the investigation of County Lines offences and a detective sergeant and detective inspector responsible for overseeing these officers. Police constables on ‘disruption teams’ who carry out stop searches, safe and well checks and execute search warrants will be interviewed as they are likely to have a different operational experience to investigators. The research design also looks to interview officers engaged in the investigation of missing children at risk of exploitation who again may have different outlooks and experiences. The research design will also look to capture the views of officers with a strategic outlook, including a detective chief inspector responsible for violent crime reduction strategy and a senior officer responsible for safeguarding.

Semi-structured interviews, consisting of a series of open ended questions to start conversation, will allow for dialogue whilst ensuring key topics are covered, along with unexpected subjects that arise during the interview.
Interviews will be transcribed and analysed using NVIVO.

Date due for completion

October 2021
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