It is vitally important that leaders in policing push against a dangerous narrative that accepts drugs and their consequences as an inevitable part of our society. We need to stand by the message that says substances like cocaine, heroin and cannabis harm health, are illegal and support our police in taking action against those who profit from them.
I am quite clear about my approach to drugs in Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – they cause immeasurable harm to people, our economy, our health services and people’s ability to live happy and rewarding lives. There is a clear link between drugs and the other three of my priorities, antisocial behaviour, violence and road safety.
Smoking cannabis and leaving drugs paraphernalia around is a form of antisocial behaviour, gangs who peddle drugs and drug users are more likely to be the perpetrators and victims of violent crimes, and while drink driving deaths having fallen 88% between 1979 and 2015, there has been an increase in drug-related driving offences, with over 12,000 convicted in 2019 and 44% committed by reoffenders.
Drug users are a risk to others’ lives and safety too, with 713 people seriously injured in drug-driving collisions in 2020, up from 499 in 2016.
Research by my office indicates that residents of the force area that they do not like the effects of drugs on their communities, with 44% of people surveyed in 2020-21 listing it as one of their top three priorities from a list of 22 crime types.
So we know there’s a problem, the strategy is drawn up, now is the time for action. One of the places where drugs have a hold over too many people is Torquay, my home town, so it was great last week to see a huge amount of police action on drug dealing.
Around 100 officers in total, including 30 from the specialist Operation Medusa team from Merseyside Police, swept through Torquay and Teignmouth. After a huge amount of work a total of 40 people had been arrested, drugs and weapons had been seized and South Devon was significantly safer.
I’d likely to thank both the Merseyside team and the local officers who put a considerable amount of effort into preparing intelligence for this operation to ensure that the Liverpudlians had plenty of property, people and vehicles to search.
Well resourced by the Home Office, the specialists in county lines dealing know exactly what and who to look for, their undercover officers look the part, wear the right labels, hair styles and trainers as those they are looking for. They have portable automatic number plate recognition kit, pursuit vehicles and lots of experience from similar operations around the country.
Their role is to stem the supply of drugs from Liverpool to Devon and Cornwall. This is a real problem with our force area ranked eighth of 43 in England and Wales for the supply of drugs from Merseyside.
And for those readers who may be thinking that they have read about this activity before, they would be right. The same team conducted a two-day operation in Plymouth a few weeks ago, arresting 43 people and taking knives, guns and crossbows out of circulation there. There is plenty more activity planned and I am working hand in glove with five other Commissioners and their respective forces to support robust enforcement, and signposting to treatment across the South West.
The idea is to tell dealers, wherever they be in London, Liverpool or anywhere else, that our communities will not tolerate drugs. And, as those picked up last week are finding out, if they decide to drop off narcotics in our neck of the woods, they may well be staying for longer than they had planned.
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