So-called county lines - a term used for crime associated with gangs crossing borders to expand their drug network - has become a problem for police in areas such as Bolton-upon-Dearne, Goldthorpe and Thurnscoe.
However, as part of prioritised issues set out by South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings, county lines-related issues will receive more attention due to its rapid rise locally.
He said: “Some of our most vulnerable people are children and they can become drawn into criminality by gangs seeking to exploit them.
“County lines is the term used for the trafficking of illegal drugs across geographic boundaries, often into smaller towns or villages.
“Criminal gangs ‘recruit’ vulnerable people, many of them children, and coerce them into dealing illegal drugs.
“Victims can be subject to threats, abuse and violence at the hands of criminals seeking to profit.”
Over recent months South Yorkshire Police’s taskforce - Operation Fortify - have prosecuted 11 people linked to organised crime groups.
A total of 12 gang members - who operated from Swinton and extended their reach to communities such as Goldthorpe and Bolton-upon-Dearne - are also awaiting sentence.
Work has also increased - alongside Barnsley Council - to safeguard youngsters who are vulnerable to organised criminality as it’s believed periods of lockdown owing to the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated issues.
Dr Billings added: “Children and young people’s exposure to risk and vulnerability is likely to have increased during lockdown.
“I have maintained funding which contributes to the work of the youth offending services at Barnsley Council to support their work in engaging with young people who have committed crime, or are on the cusp of offending.
“I will continue to give full support a wide range of partners in seeking, among other things, to prevent children and young people being harmed and exploited in the first place.”
Chief Constable Lauren Poultney backed Dr Billings’ plan to prioritise county lines.
She said: “The pandemic has meant that we have had to review many of the ways in which we work to ensure we can do so safely, to adapt to the different needs of our communities and to help them thrive in what have been extraordinary times for all of us.
“We have adapted to all of this with commitment, passion and drive and in doing so, we have developed some new ways of working which bring new benefits.
“As the priorities of the police and crime plan remain stable I feel this provides us the opportunity to consolidate our successes, to bring resilience to our plans, deeper benefits to our communities and further improve the service to our victims and witnesses.”