Researching county lines and urban street gangs
In this research study I sought to examine how London-based USGs establish county line (CL) drug supply networks into the Home Counties. Specifically to:
• investigate localised drug markets, offending patterns, strategic action and the local economy of substance misuse;
• generate different CL models and explore how they are employed;
• examine the behaviours and dynamics of social actors;
• generate a typology of social control mechanisms and strategic action;
• review impacts and make policy recommendations to help tackle county lines.
In so doing, I draw upon two principle theoretical perspectives with great explanatory value regarding street-gang dynamics: social field analysis (Bourdieu 1984, 1985; Fligstein and McAdam, 2012; Martin, 2003); and street capital theory (Harding, 2012a, 2014; Sandberg, 2008; Sandberg and Pederson, 2011).
I have elected to keep the study locations anonymous. Location sampling was determined by key factors: – the county was identified in Home Office Ending Gang and Youth Violence (EGYV) reports (Home Office, 2013b; HM Government, 2016b) as having CL alongside emergent gang issues; – one town was the subject of an EGYV in-depth peer review. Following initial overtures it was recommended I focus on specific towns widely recognised as experiencing multiple challenges from county lines. Initial scoping included discussions with local stakeholders to ascertain the viability of further research. Secondary analysis of local datasets suggested high volumes of CL drug supply networks. Agreement was given by the Chief Superintendent to support the study. Final locality selection was determined by data availability, CL presence, presence of pre-existing contacts (May et al, 2005), and their agreement to assist with research.
This study sought to access those related to county lines via: professional stakeholders working locally: the local police, in particular, Divisional Detectives working on USGs and drug markets; active participants in CLs using a third-party gang consultant. Such work naturally leans heavily upon non-random, purposive sampling techniques (Green and Thorogood, 2004) for accessing and interviewing USGs, drug users and CL operatives.
Further contacts were made via snowballing (Gilbert, 2008; Griffiths et al, 1993). Respondents were viewed as being experts in their own social setting (Gilbert, 2008) offering a degree of validity to their comments/observations and their lived experiences.