POLICE have arrested 137 people in a crackdown on drug dealing.

North Yorkshire Police say that figures for arrests by the Operation Expedite team – a dedicated team based in Harrogate who focus on drug dealing and safeguarding exploited people – made 137 arrests in the six months from July to December last year.

It comes as police tackling drug dealing in Harrogate and the surrounding areas are warning criminals to stay away or face arrest as they send a clear message that it’s business as usual during lockdown. 

Of those 137 arrested, nine people have been jailed for a total of almost 23 years with individual sentences ranging from five years and four months for supplying class A drugs to six months for possessing class A drugs, not to mention a 28-month sentence for burglary.

The ‘County’ Operation Expedite team are based in Harrogate but also cover the districts of Craven, Richmondshire and Hambleton. They work alongside other Expedite teams based in York and Scarborough. Their main focus is ‘county lines’ drug dealing but they also target other crimes that have persistent patterns, for example a spate of burglaries or thefts, to support their neighbourhood policing colleagues.

They carry out patrols, on foot, in vehicles, in uniform, or plain clothes, constantly keeping a look out for suspicious activity and known suspects.

Checking on the safety and welfare of vulnerable people known to have been exploited and ‘cuckooed’ by drug dealers is also a key part of the team’s regular routine.

Cuckooing is the term used when drug dealers take over the home of someone – usually vulnerable and often a drug user themselves – to store and sell their drugs. They often use violence and intimidation to threaten the householder into letting them stay. They will sometimes give them free drugs, resulting in the householder owing them a ‘debt’.

Detective Sergeant Tom Barker, has worked on the Operation Expedite team for the past three years.

He said: “Drug dealing and the exploitation it brings remains a key priority for North Yorkshire Police and these arrest figures help to demonstrate this.

“Although there are no figures that show the harm and fear that is experienced by people who are exploited and drawn into the often dangerous world of drug dealing.

“As well as disrupting criminals, our work is also about protecting vulnerable people. We can’t do that alone and our close work with partner agencies is vital to getting them the help they need. From housing to help with a drug or alcohol addiction, it’s important that the people who need it are given help and those who exploit them are brought to justice.

“Information from members of the public is also key in helping to shape operational activity. So please don’t thing you are ever wasting our time by calling something in. Just because we don’t come tearing down the road with blue lights on, doesn’t mean we are not using your information.

“Drug supply investigations can take a long time, and the more evidence we have, the sooner we can act and take another dealer off the streets.”

Superintendent Steve Thomas, Commander for the Harrogate, Craven, Richmondshire and Hambleton areas, added: “I am incredibly proud of the work being done every day by Operation Expedite staff and their colleagues who support them across the district. They have faced the risks of operational policing in a time of unprecedented challenges throughout the pandemic and continue to do so.

“However, this is not a time to rest on our laurels and I want to reassure the local residents across the district that we will be working even harder over the coming months to make Harrogate a very hostile environment for those who think it’s ok to make money exploiting vulnerable people and ruining lives.”

Police say that members of the public can help by looking beyond the obvious, someone you might associate with antisocial behaviour and troublesome visitors, might just be very scared and exploited. Or, on the surface, a young person might appear to be a trouble-maker, but they could be a terrified victim of abuse and be trapped in a violent criminal world that they can’t see any escape from.

Please report anything you suspect may be linked to the exploitation of children, cuckooing and drug dealing and report them to us, or the independent charity, Crimestoppers. No matter how small you might think it is, every little piece of information helps us piece together a bigger picture.