I know our force loves community intelligence – it is the life blood of operations which put dangerous people behind bars and maintain Devon and Cornwall as having the lowest recorded crime rate in the country – a position which the Office of National Statistics confirmed on Thursday.
It was community intelligence which led to a huge haul of cannabis being discovered in my home town of Torquay earlier this year. And it was community intelligence which helped officers leading Operation Scorpion catch a number of suspected drug dealers during the national week of county lines intensification this month.
County lines drug dealing is a particularly nasty and exploitative subset of a nasty and exploitative industry. It is where vulnerable people, often children, are used to courier and deal hard drugs, servicing phone ‘lines’ which users contact. Frequently dealers will move into the homes of adults with learning difficulties and use these premises as drugs distribution centres.
Information given to CrimeStoppers - the charity which allows you to report crime anonymously - and Devon and Cornwall Police, enabled the force to make 36 arrests, seize drugs worth more than £90,000, cash worth £54,800 and 14 weapons in just seven days.
Importantly six adult and 10 children were safeguarded during the operation in Devon and Cornwall. Those children face brighter and safer futures thanks to this operation.
Because Operation Scorpion is a regional initiative, initiated by five Police and Crime Commissioners and supported by their Chief Constables, across the South West there was a substantial amount of activity.
The drugs which have been prevented from hitting our streets in one week alone included cocaine and heroin worth more than £183,000 and cannabis valued at £155,000.
If you needed proof that the people involved in this trade were capable of deeply unpleasant crimes look no further than the haul of weapons taken in the week. Including a samurai sword and a crossbow, they will now be used as evidence or fed into a police crusher.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the police officers and staff who assisted with this operation, from the painstaking planning of our activity through to the coordination with key partner agencies.
But mostly I would like to thank the community-minded members of the public for your continued support of an initiative which continues to safeguard the most vulnerable in our cities, towns and villages and sends a clear message to those thinking that the South West is an easy target for drugs distribution.
Nationally county lines intensification week, coordinated by the NPCC-led National County Lines Coordination Centre (NCLCC), saw 103kg of cannabis seized, alongside 40kg of Class A drugs worth over £1.2 million, 33 firearms, 377 bladed weapons, and over £1.2m in cash, as forces made large gains against these gangs and the products that finance their exploitative criminality.
A total of 710 vulnerable people, including 58 children were also referred by police to safeguarding services through the national operation. Exploitation, coercion, and violence are cornerstones of the county lines trade, and cannabis is used by gangs to trap young people into debt, forcing them to transport their drugs and sell to other children to continue the cycle. By rescuing these vulnerable people from the grip of these gangs and helping them into support services such as the Home Office-funded Catch 22, this cycle of violence and abuse is being broken.
My message to drug dealers and those who seek to exploit children for their own gain is that this is not over – with public support we will be relentless in your pursuit.