Published: 00:01, 11 February 2019
An influx of London gangs in Kent and the rise of County Lines drug networks are thought to be behind a 50% rise in the number of people caught with guns and knives in Gravesham and Dartford.
The latest police recorded crime figures show there were 159 weapons offences in the 12 months to September 2018 - up 47% on the previous 12 month period, when 108 incidents were recorded.
Francis Osei-Appiah, ex gang member and founder of crime prevention charity Reform Restore Respect, said the situation in Gravesend and Dartford was directly linked to London gangs extending their territory, and to so-called "County Lines" networks, through which dealers use youngsters to sell drugs in areas away from the capital.
"My initial take on it is to look to gangs and County Lines coming into Kent," he said. "If they get arrested in Kent it puts our figures up."
"Am I surprised? No. Is it to do with London gangs? Yes.
"That part of Kent especially is even closer to London, so I'm not surprised.
"But I think Kent Police are doing a great job - they're forever doing raids and arresting these gang members" - Ex gang member Francis Osei-Appiah
"It's connected to county lines - Kent Police have acknowledged that."
He said the counties around London offered a physically larger area away from the London boroughs, where competition to control smaller areas was fierce.
"Because London is small the Met Police have got good at identifying gang members," he added, "so if they go to a different county they go under the radar.
"But I think Kent Police are doing a great job - they're forever doing raids and arresting these gang members - the message is 'keep coming to Kent and we'll keep arresting you.'"
Mr Osei-Appiah frequently visits schools around the county and is part of the Kent Police Commissioner's Violence Strategy to fight against gangs and county lines, which is planning to produce an action plan to combat violent crime in June.
Superintendent Andy Gadd, Deputy Commander for north division said increases in crime figures were linked to improvements in crime recording practices, adding: "Victim confidence in reporting has also increased and there are now more ways than ever for victims to report a crime, including online crime.
"Our officers have and continue to take a proactive approach in targeting, arresting and prosecuting people who carry knives or sharp instruments so again our proactive approach has played a part in contributing to this increase. We also take part in national campaigns, such as Operation Sceptre, which has been successful in identifying and arresting those who carry weapons."
Overall, police recorded crime in Dartford and Gravesham increased in the 12 months to September 2018.
Over the period, 26,629 crimes were recorded, up by 22% on 2016-17.