Top cop: Kettering is no soft touch for gangs
A senior police officer says organised crime groups shouldn't see Kettering as an easy target.
Gangs running county lines across the East Midlands have swamped Northamptonshire because of its transport links and easy access to big cities.
At one point Kettering had 16 county lines operations - the highest number in Northamptonshire - with vulnerable adults and children preyed upon by drug kingpins not wanting to get their hands dirty.
This week a massive three-day operation involving 250 officers dismantled one of these county lines, known as the Kay Line, with 18 suspects arrested and charged with drug and modern slavery offences.
He said: "These people have seen Kettering as a bit of an easy target, probably because of the rail network and student population with a lot of vulnerable people.
"What we are doing is demonstrating that Kettering is not a soft touch and neither is any town in the county.
"We will come after the people doing this and they will be prosecuted."
County lines gangs often come in from big cities and use extreme violence to force out those previously running the drug trade before taking over.
They then build up a network of drug runners and mules, grooming many vulnerable children and adults, in an attempt to keep their name out of it while taking the profits.
Asst Ch Con Blatchly urged people to keep an eye out for people who could be exploited.
He said: "Some of them will just be a little bit lost, some of them will be children excluded from school and more likely to be out on the streets and some will not be in a stable family situation.
"Many are coerced, some are threatened and some are groomed into thinking they can make some easy cash."
The operation, Operation Serpent, saw raids in London on Tuesday before further raids in Kettering on Wednesday and Thursday.
A dedicated team put in hours upon hours of difficult and methodical investigation work to get to the stage where they could go after the gang before spending about a month planning the three-day raid.
As well as the arrests drugs, weapons and cash were seized.
Asst Ch Con Blatchly added: "We are constantly investigating and we don't just want to get the dealers but those higher up the food chain.
"We are taking the fight back to the criminals."