Drug dealers are exploiting vulnerable people in Northamptonshire by taking over their homes and turning them into drug dens.
Police are calling on the public to tackle the increasing problem of 'cuckooing' by looking for signs that their neighbours and friends are being abused.
Cuckooing is a where gangs travel to towns and befriend vulnerable people only to take over their home and use it to deal drugs.
It comes after police have revealed a Northampton man with mental health issues was recently the centre of a safeguarding operation when officers discovered he was being exploited by drug users, prostitutes and alcoholics.
They found a gang from another county had taken over his home and used it as a base of crime.
Detective Inspector Dave Harley, from Northamptonshire Police, said: “These gangs to locate and take over addresses of vulnerable adults by force or coercion.
"Often a person is supplied with drugs to initiate the relationship but others such as people with mental health difficulties can also be targeted."
In many cases there is often a rise in anti-social behaviour in places where cuckooing is taking place.
The warning signs of cuckooing are:
- an increase in visitors and strangers to a property
- rubbish and litter nearby
- noise nuisance
- disturbances at the property
Alongside an increase in anti-social behaviour, the tenant is seen less often and in some cases is never seen alone.
DI Harley said: "Very quickly the gang will establish control, taking over the person’s home and use it as a base for dealing drugs. In some cases the gang will take over a number of properties and move between them, or use a property for a couple of days before moving on to evade detection.
“These gangs work very quickly to take over a person’s home. The speed with which the gangs operate can make it difficult to respond, by the time we are aware of the issue they have moved on. That is why we are calling for the public’s help.
“We want people to tell us when they have concerns about one of their neighbours, friends or relatives who may have become victimised in this way. We can take action to safeguard the person and investigate those people who have taken over their home.”
Anyone with concerns about the suspicious activity can call police on 101 or fill out this online form, alternatively you can call independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Anyone with concerns about anti-social behaviour can call police on 101 or contact their local council.