Antisocial behaviour, drugs, road safety and violence are the issues that matter most to residents of Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and where people want more police action.
These areas of work are, of course, hugely interlinked. Roads policing officers regularly catch drug dealers trying to bring cocaine, heroin and other illicit products into our force area and drugs are a driving force behind a lot of the antisocial behaviour and violence that blights lives.
I am really pleased that the five South West Police and Crime Commissioners and their respective forces have been working together on the shared ambition of making the region no place for drugs through a series of joint operations known as Operation Scorpion.
In December cities and towns including Plymouth and Falmouth were the focus of the third phase of this operation, which concentrated efforts on the users in bars and nightclubs whose ‘harmless fun’ funds a supply chain dominated by violent and exploitative criminals.
Resources deployed included officers and staff from five forces, Ministry of Defence police, the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit and British Transport Police.
This week these forces will be brought together once again for the fourth phase, which has the theme of ‘drug related crime and violence’. This theme will allow us to target the criminality that affects us most while keeping it focused on the violence often associated with drug use and abuse.
Working together we wish to send a strong message to both the criminal fraternity and law abiding public that the South West is a hostile place for drug dealers and anti-social drug users.
I have written before about the fact that ‘county lines’ dealing is one of methods used to distribute drugs to the region. This is where local people, who are sometimes vulnerable or exploited, are set up as dealers in a community and supplied by others from urban locations.
Police have become experts at identifying this type of activity, targeting county lines dealers and looking after those they try to exploit.
Three weeks ago 14 people were jailed at Exeter Crown Court for their roles in a county lines drug dealing operation. The group had been involved in bringing class A drugs from Liverpool to distribute around the South West.
Op Harbinger was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of detective work and I would like to congratulate the team, led by Detective Inspector Sam Smoothy, on this work.
Tackling county lines is an enterprise we should all be involved in. Police need us to play a part in looking out for and reporting signs of county lines activity in our neighbourhoods.
An increase in visitors and cars to a house or flat or new faces appearing, new and regularly changing residents, maybe with non-local accents, a change of residents’ demeanour, changes in the way young people dress, and unexplained expensive possessions are all signs that county lines dealing might be taking place.
If you recognise any of these signs or have information you would like to pass on anonymously, you can speak to the independent charity Crimestoppers 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year on 0800 555 111 or use the charity’s non-traceable online form.
They will never ask for your name or contact details and the phone call or online report will never be traced. If the information you supply leads to an arrest and charge, you could get a cash reward of up to £1,000.
By working together across the South West, we will disrupt the drugs market and ensure those behind this immoral trade are dealt with robustly.