Specialist police officers are warning vulnerable children not to be duped into a life of drug crime by empty promises of cash, clothes and cars.
As part of County Lines Intensification Week, 11 of the 55 people arrested were aged under 18.
That is made up of nine boys and two girls.
The recruitment of gang members is an important part of operating a County Line with promises of an expensive lifestyle, including expensive jewellery, cars, hotels, champagne, tracksuits and trainers.
However, what vulnerable children are being sold is not the reality that they will face.
Detective Superintendent Lewis Basford, of the Essex Police serious violence unit, said: “We know recruitment of young people is a key part of gangs’ operations and what they are being sold as a lifestyle is not true.
“The cash which they are working to raise from customers works its way back to the top of chain, it is not theirs.
“The jewellery is fake or often ‘rented’ purely for the purposes of taking pictures and the high-end cars are rented.
“Lastly – and most starkly – the cash runs out and they will need to work on the street, fearing violence. That is the life we know young people who are duped into this lifestyle end up living.
“They now have a debt to the gang and can’t simply leave once they have accepted the ‘hospitality’.
“So now, that young person is not only worried about being caught by the police and robbed or attacked by rival gang members, they are also fearful of being attacked by their own gang members.
“We regularly see videos through our investigations of young gang members being subjected to extreme violence. It is referred to as ‘training’ but it is no different to the recruitment of child soldiers in war-torn countries.”
He added: “We know there are gang members and runners who are carrying out their role by choice and have no desire to abide by the law but the worrying reality is thee young people are more likely to be exploited victims.”
Speaking directly to young people being exploited, he added: “We will be there to support you if you make the decision to walk away from such activities. We can provide a safe space and break the cycle of exploitation.”
For information on spotting the signs of exploitation, go to https://county-lines.co.uk/ and https://www.essex.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/cl/county-lines/