Drugs and weapons have been seized, and 60 people arrested, during a week long crackdown on 'county lines' in Staffordshire and Cheshire.
The practice sees gangs operating out of cities and large towns exploit vulnerable people and children to deal drugs into rural areas, villages and small towns.
They will often force their way into their home to use as a secure operating base to deal drugs - a term known as ‘cuckooing’.
Those involved may be coerced into this activity through debt, drugs use, grooming, threats or violence. Typical risk factors for those involved are mental health problems, drug use, debt, being known to the care system, and being prone to missing episodes.
It is an issue that is affecting the whole of the UK, with a new report from the National Crime Agency suggesting the number of 'county lines' has almost trebled in the last year.
As part of a week of action in Staffordshire and Cheshire, officers across the two counties arrested 60 people for a range of offences including drugs and possessing offensive weapons.
The drugs recovered were heroin, crack cocaine and cannabis, while officers also seized weapons including knives, a machete, a sword, a crowbar, a baseball bat, and a knuckle duster.
Officers say they also identified and safeguarded seven victims of ‘cuckooing’.
In Cheshire, £2,500 in cash was also seized, while officers visited schools to help them spot the signs of vulnerable people being coerced into criminal activity, and how to report it.
Detective Chief Inspector Paul Bentley, of Staffordshire Police, said: “We are seeing this type of activity in Staffordshire and working hard to tackle this challenge by disrupting those who would deal drugs in our communities.
“Often individuals travel into the north of the county from Merseyside or into south and mid-Staffordshire from the West Midlands.
“It has been a busy week and we’ve had success disrupting criminal activity, but of course our work continues.
"We will arrest and charge those dealing drugs but we will also look to safeguard the young and vulnerable who may be pressured into this type of activity.
"It’s important to understand that where we would once have treated some of those involved as offenders they may be vulnerable and at risk.”
Detective Inspector Justin Hancock, said: “Although we regularly take action to disrupt county line activity, officers went that extra mile last week to target organised crime in our communities.
“Vulnerable adults and children are often targeted to deliver and deal drugs on a criminal’s behalf after being criminally exploited, coerced and manipulated.
“Keeping vulnerable adults and children safe is our priority in Cheshire. As well as carrying out warrants and making arrests, local officers have also been informing the public on how they too can help by spotting the signs of vulnerability.
“Breaking the cycle of those who are coerced into this crime is very difficult and while working with our partners is important we also need support from the public to help disrupt organised crime.
“I would encourage the local community to keep an eye out if you feel something isn’t right and to report it to us on 101.”