County lines gangs use Snapchat as their main tool to lure teenagers
Snapchat is the main tool being used by gangs to recruit children into county lines drug rings, police warned on Thursday after they seized £1 million worth of drugs in a crackdown.
Teenagers are being lured in by offers of cash, mobile phones, vapes and clothes in messages sent on the app and other social media platforms and then made to courier cocaine, heroin and cannabis from London to smaller town and cities.
Snapchat lets users exchange text, pictures and videos that disappear after they are viewed. Detective Chief Inspector Dan Mitchell, head of Scotland Yard’s county lines taskforce, said officers visit classrooms to urge children to reject messages like one sent out by drug dealers asking “who wants to make £500 this weekend?”.
He told the Standard: “With county lines, we see Snapchat being one of the main tools for recruitment. That’s hard for policing to fight against. But we are working with schools to build resilience in young people. That is the way forward, to give them the knowledge to understand this is a trap.”
DCI Mitchell spoke out after the Met carried out a week-long operation against county lines gangs. A total of 222 suspects were arrested and 177 vulnerable young people safeguarded across London during the intensification operation, which ended on Sunday.
More than 100 people have been charged with supplying 8.3kg of class A drugs and 37.6kg of class B worth £1 million in total. Five firearms, 51 knives, machetes and swords and £652,214 in cash were seized by Operation Orochi which closed 77 drug lines out of the capital.
Meanwhile, a drug dealer who used social media to recruit teenagers is set to be jailed. Drill rapper Malik Aziz, 24, also known as 9 Milly - slang for a 9mm handgun - boasted on YouTube track “Reborn” about his drug operation exploiting children and going “artillery shopping” for handguns.
A video of him and twin brother Omar cruising around south London in a green Lamborghini making gun signs and spraying each other with Champagne remains on the platform with 27,000 views.
He raps about being “reborn” since his release from HMP Isis in Thamesmead for a previous crime and states he won’t get caught again because he’s “got two kids rotating shifts”.
Kingston Crown Court heard Malik, of Streatham, groomed two boys aged 14 and 15 and ran a £30,000-a-week drugs line to Hertfordshire with Omar and Samir Mustafa, 24, from Reading. The London teenagers were reported missing by their parents in January last year. Both were found in Hatfield at an address which had been taken over for drug dealing - a process known as “cuckooing”. Police detained Omar and Malik Aziz at their home. A phone controlling the Hatfield line was seized from Malik.
In a bedroom, officers discovered a SIG Sauer self-loading pistol, eight rounds of ammunition, a zombie knife and £2,000 in cash. The Aziz brothers and Mustafa pleaded guilty in December to conspiracy to supply crack cocaine and heroin. Malik Aziz admitted possession of a firearm and Mustafa to driving a Mercedes while disqualified to transport the children to and from Hatfield. All three will be sentenced on March 23.
The teenage boys were not prosecuted but referred to children’s services and City Hall-funded Rescue and Response programme that has a 90 per cent success in helping under-25s leave gangs.
Detective Constable Declan James, who led the investigation, said: “Drill music was used to glorify their criminal activities and Malik’s online presence allowed him to be seen as a local celebrity. That can be a factor in children willing to work for him.
“County lines drug dealers exploit young and vulnerable people to facilitate their drug supply. They hope that by using them as drugs runners they will shield themselves from identification and prosecution by law enforcement. This is because frequently, these exploited persons are too scared to assist police.
“I hope this result sends out a clear message that we will not tolerate the exploitation of children nor the supply of drugs.
“The additional recovery of a loaded firearm associated with these perpetrators reflects the intractable association between drug supply and violence.”
Since Op Orochi was set up in 2019, 1,285 drug lines were closed and 800 dealers jailed, a 94 per cent conviction rate.
DCI Mitchell released figures that may indicate a reason London’s murder rate and teenage killings have fallen so dramatically. Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley ordered officers to adopt a “proactive approach to reducing crime” as the heavy reliance on stop and search “burns through trust” in ethnic communities.
From a sample of 320 suspects arrested for running county line operations, 80 per cent were previously known to police for violence. Fifty per cent of runners had been detained in the past for carrying knives.
Fourteen homicides were recorded in London between January 1 and March 6 this year, compared with 23 over the same period in 2021, the worst on record.
Thankfully, no teenagers have been murdered in 2023. By March 2021, eight youngsters had been killed in street violence across the capital.
Snapchat said: “Using Snapchat to buy or sell drugs is illegal and strictly against our rules. We proactively search for drug dealing and people are able to report it in-app.
“When we become aware of this type of behaviour, we remove it and take appropriate action, including working with the police to support investigations. We also regularly meet with safety experts to understand new drug related trends, including terminology that may be used by gangs.”