Drug gangs operating in Norfolk are using levels of violence the county’s top police officer has not seen in more than 30 years, a public meeting in Lynn has heard.
But Norfolk Police chief constable Simon Bailey says an ongoing crackdown on the trade is starting to have an effect.
More than 70 people have so far been arrested across the county as part of the Norfolk force’s Operation Gravity against the supply of hard drugs.
Earlier this week, a report outlined the extent of the trade within Lynn, where three main gangs are said to be supplying illegal drugs.
Two of the gangs are said to be from north London, with the other from Peterborough.
The report outlined how some vulnerable drug users had been targeted by one of the gangs, who took over their properties, used intimidatory tactics against them and other users and also targeted members of other gangs involved in the trade.
During the latest police accountablilty meeting, held at West Norfolk Council headquarters on Monday evening, Mr Bailey said the current operation was not just meant to target the criminals but help those who they target.
He said: “We’re being subjected to gangs coming from outside Norfolk who are bringing drugs into the county to exploit some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.
“The levels of violence within that are such I have never experienced before.”
But he also estimated the number of gangs operating across the county had been slashed from 40 to around 10.
He added: “There’s an awful lot of work to be done. Our response has been robust and I genuinely feel it’s starting to have an effect”
Throughout the current operation, senior officers have repeatedly stressed their intention not just to catch the criminals, but also to help drug users who are targeted by the gangs.
Mr Bailey said: “We are doing everything we can. This is not just about enforcement. There is a significant public health element to our approach.”
The meeting also heard that Norfolk was developing a reputation as a “hostile” area for criminals engaged in heritage crime, such as lead thefts from churches and hare coursing.
The meeting is one of a regular series, held at venues across Norfolk, where police and crime commissioner Lorne Green questions senior offices on the force’s activities.