More than 200 people have been arrested during a week-long crackdown on county lines gangs in London, the Met Police has said.
The force seized over one million pounds worth of drugs and a range of weapons, including guns, knives, machetes and swords, during the raids across the capital last week.
County lines is a drug supply model which traffics drugs into rural areas and smaller towns, away from major cities.
Met Police officers charged 105 people with a total of 223 charges, which included 150 drug trafficking charges and 131 charges relating to Class A and B drugs, from 27 February to 5 March. In the same period, 8.3 kilograms of Class A drugs were seized, as well as 37.6 kilograms of Class B drugs, £652,214 in cash, five firearms and 51 weapons.
Alongside the arrests, the force said 177 vulnerable people were safeguarded, several of them children being “preyed on” by the drug gangs and “used as a commodity”.
The Met said in a statement: “Instead of criminalising these children, officers work with Rescue and Response to ensure they are safeguarded and supported.”
Detective Superintendent Rick Sewart, the lead responsible officer for county lines at the Met, said that county lines was “intrinsically linked to homicide and serious violence”.
He added that 80% of county lines offenders charged with drug trafficking during this financial year had previously been arrested for violence, and said the gang networks preyed on the vulnerable to fuel Class A drug addictions.
Detective Stewart said: “County lines networks prey upon children and young people, trafficking them and subjecting them to modern slavery involving horrendous emotional and physical abuse.
“Victims are coerced through violence, blackmail and debt bondage, to hold and supply drugs. Those involved use weapons and serious violence including kidnaps to intimidate and threaten victims.”
Earlier this month, the British Transport Police (BTP) warned that teenage boys as young as 13 were being lured to work for drug dealers with promises of money and gifts.
Young people were offered cash, mobile phones, vapes and clothes to take advantage of so-called “business opportunities” promoted on social media, with BTP officers saying they had seen messages sent out by drug dealers asking “who wants to make £500 this weekend?” in a bid to lure them in.
In a survey of 1,500 boys aged 13 to 19 commissioned by BTP, 19% said they or a friend had been offered work by a drug dealer.
The survey, carried out by OnePoll, found that 20% of the boys polled knew someone who sells or transports drugs. It said that 15% of the teenagers had seen drugs being offered or sold on social media, and 18% at school.