Touring Exeter’s CCTV control room - one of several which has benefitted from Safer Streets funding
On Tuesday, for example, I had no idea that the next morning I would be getting up at the crack of dawn to join officers and Avon & Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Shelford to observe a raid on a suspected drug dealer’s home.
The home, and another in Torquay, had been linked to county lines drug dealing connecting London with the Westcountry. Three teenagers from Devon were arrested in relation to suspected class A drug supply, human trafficking and child exploitation offences.
As well as the arrests, drugs phones, cash and weapons were seized during searches of properties. A further man was arrested in London as part of the operation, which comes after Avon and Somerset Police's County Lines team spent months gathering intelligence.
They tracked a suspected drug operation which was believed to be importing crack cocaine and heroin into the area and exploiting children to move drugs around the region.
I have been working with Mark, and three other commissioners across the South West, to really focus on drugs through a joint regional operation called Operation Scorpion. In two years this partnership has taken more than £7m worth of drugs off our streets and resulted in our forces doing more drug disruptions than almost all the other 38 in England and Wales.
There was less good news as I headed back to HQ when I heard that planners were unable to accept my planning application for a new police station in the Devon resort of Exmouth. The town is the largest in the county and its population swells in the summer months. The old station is tired and I want a better public facility which provides a great working environment for officers, staff and volunteers and has a Police Enquiry Office which is open to the public.
Unfortunately a preliminary survey of the site indicated that there might be bats roosting there. We will have to wait until summertime to see if these protected creatures are present or not. While the delay is frustrating, working with wildlife is all part of life in the Westcountry and we will have to take the appropriate steps to protect them if they are on site.
Despite this modest setback my programme to reopen 18 police enquiry offices around the two counties continues, with Okehampton Police Station reopening its doors to the public on Monday (January 8). I have visited this imposing former school building and met many local people who I know will be keen to have this facility in their community once again.
All the former Police Enquiry Offices to be reopened have now been selected, apart from four. I am working with the Chief Constable to decide where these will be, using a rationale including geography, financial feasibility, operational requirement and community support. When these decisions have been made I will be announcing which sites will receive the investment. If you are interested in starting a career in policing, this frontline role is worth considering (opportunities are advertised on the Devon and Cornwall Police website).
Another decision I will make soon relates to the police precept (the amount we all pay for policing via our council tax). The draft budget I am working on will maintain police officer numbers at historically high levels and will go before the next meeting of the Police and Crime Panel on February 2.
I met one of the councillors who sits on the panel in Exeter this week on a visit to the city’s CCTV control room. Exeter has had its network of cameras extended thanks to another funding stream, the Government’s Safer Streets programme.
My office has been involved in securing many millions of pounds of Safer Streets money in the last few years and CCTV has proved instrumental in catching criminals and keeping our most vulnerable citizens safe.
So, 2024 is well under way and I’d like to thank those who made for an interesting and productive week: the officers who took part in the drugs raid for the professional and sensitive way they handled a tricky case, our estates team for their tireless efforts to reopen Police Enquiry Offices and replace older stations and the CCTV teams who work around the clock to keep our town and city centres safe.