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A new research report has raised concerns that policing efforts targeting 'county lines' drug operations in the UK rely on discriminatory assumptions about minority groups and contribute to the criminalisation of minoritised communities.

This study was carried out by our top-rated Sociology department in collaboration with University of Sankt Gallen in Switzerland and Manchester Metropolitan University.

Racial profiling in county lines policing

The study found that county lines policies mirror the methods previously used in the controversial Gangs Violence Matrix database of the London Metropolitan Police.

Both employ vague criteria that lead to the over-policing of minority youth, their families and communities.

Despite a lack of evidence showing increased drug offenses, in some areas, black boys are up to six times more likely to be classified as at-risk of involvement in ‘county lines’.

Safeguarding as a route to criminalisation?

While government rhetoric around county lines emphasises safeguarding exploited youth, the report found interventions legitimise extensive policing and surveillance of minoritised communities.

Subjective distinctions between ‘victims’ and ‘offenders’ mean many youth face potential criminalisation rather than care.

Ultimately, researchers argue that relying on racial stereotypes to tackle county lines serves to further marginalise and criminalise minority groups rather than addressing systemic inequality.

The study has been published in the Institute of Race Relation’s journal Race & Class.

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