A WARNING has been issued to residents as drug gangs adapt their operations to continue their illegal activities during the coronavirus lockdown.

Dorset Police is calling on members of the public to be vigilant and to report any drug dealing or other suspicious activity taking place in their communities.

Since the government restrictions were imposed in an attempt to limit the spread of Covid-19, 'County lines' drug dealers have changed the way they carry out their crimes.

'County lines' is a term used to describe urban gangs supplying drugs to other parts of the UK via dedicated mobile phone lines. The gangs, which have been reported to operate a significant operation along the south coast, are likely to exploit children or vulnerable adults to move and store drugs and will often use coercion.

In the six months from October 2019 to March 2020, Dorset Police conducted 217 disruptions against ‘County lines’ operations.

Before the lockdown, deal lines were created to take orders for drugs and runners were used to transport and collect payment. The restrictions on movement have prohibited these methods, however criminal gangs are now adapting their operations to be able to continue their illegal activity.

Superintendent Caroline Naughton, from Dorset Police, said: “When the restrictions were implemented, initially we saw a decrease in drug dealing. However we know the gangs and ‘County Lines’ suppliers are still operating - they are just changing their methods to get round the restrictions.

“We already know about a lot of their activities and how they have changed their operations but we always want to know more and help from the public is invaluable. Therefore, we are asking members of the public to tell us if they have seen anything suspicious or have concerns about people within their community.

“Dorset is one of the safest places in the country to live. Any information from the public will help us further restrict and disrupt the deal lines, prosecute those organising the activity, safeguard vulnerable victims caught up in the networks, and continue to keep our communities safe."

Anyone who sees or suspects any drug use in their neighbourhood, unknown or suspicious characters and lots of comings and goings from houses should report this to police online at dorset.police.uk/contact.

Police operations to disrupt ‘County Lines’ activity have been running for several years and regularly lead to the prosecution of criminal gangs.

Martyn Underhill, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “Sadly, ‘County Lines’ dealers will stop at nothing to ply their damaging trade, bringing drugs into our towns and villages as well as exploiting vulnerable people, and the Covid-19 restrictions have led to these gangs changing their tactics.

“Now, more than ever, we need the community to work with us so please find out about the signs to look out for and if you see anything suspicious in your neighbourhood contact Dorset Police.”