A police force has announced a new tactic to tackle drug runners: confiscate their expensive trainers and designer clothes. Officers hope it “will have an impact”, but a former gang member says it will do nothing to deter offenders.
The move is part of work tackling county lines – the drug dealing networks connecting urban and rural areas across the UK through dedicated phone lines.
Designer trainers and clothes are seized by officers under the Proceeds of Crime Act and offenders are given a cheap pair of plimsolls to go home in.
Jermaine Lawlor, a former drug dealer, says the move, will “sabotage” the relationship between police and vulnerable young adults.
Wiltshire Police – which has seized more than 90 pairs of trainers since the beginning of the year, from some as young as 16 – say it is “hitting offenders hard”.
But Mr Lawlor, who now works with young people through Voice 4 Youth Against Violence, says all this serves to do is “upset” the offender.
“If prison doesn’t deter them, taking their trainers away from them definitely isn’t going to,” he tells the BBC.
This will only add to frustration felt against the police and will not solve the problem of young people being exploited by drug gangs, he adds.
“All the kids I’m working with have £500, £200-pairs of shoes. They’re spending hundreds of pounds on t-shirts.”
This – he says – actually shows their vulnerability: “It’s a culture. These kids are dying to fit in.
“When I dealt and got money, I would spend it on clothes. ‘Cause I never had anything.
“I remember getting my first £150 trainers. I remember the feeling it gave me. When you’ve come from poverty… it’s about having that feeling of respect.”
Wiltshire Police believes taking away the profits of offenders’ work will make a difference.
“It’s sad, but often we will see young people arrested, released under investigation while enquiries continue, and then continue to work as runners,” detective constable George Booth says.
“Being arrested doesn’t seem to have any affect on them.
“These trainers or designer clothes can be seen as a status symbol, and so losing that is pretty difficult for them to deal with.”
But Mr Lawlor wants to see greater focus on supporting, not punishing, young drug runners.
“The same effort it takes to take trainers away – they can sit these kids down and talk to them about support services or apprenticeships in the area.
“They’re still kids.”
Police say seizing goods does not stop officers building rapport and helping those who need it.