Devon and Cornwall police have seized drugs weighing the equivalent of two Arnold Schwarzeneggers since the start of a cross-border mission designed to make the south west a “hostile environment” for drug dealers.

Police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez said the force, in conjunction with Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Avon and Somerset, had made a difference since March 2022 when Operation Scorpion began with 629 arrests and 350 people safeguarded against drug dealers.

The operation has also disrupted 3,272 drug operations.

She said the six phases of the drive had reduced the number of ‘county lines’ operations – where dealers move across county boundaries and police force areas. Drugs weighing a total of 213kg had been seized (Arnie weighs 107kg), along with nearly £1 million in cash.

Ms Hernandez told Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime panel the service, working together with its partners, is among the top four best performing forces in the country for disrupting crime.

“I am really pleased, we are making a difference,” she said.

“Operation Scorpion has been about getting drugs off the streets and getting people out of the system and stopping them being exploited. We are keen on shifting police thinking. We are not measuring them on the number of arrests.”

She said the operation was about tackling crime in communities where everyone could see it.

“We know that in some places it feels lawless and the public are fed up,” she said.

“They say what is the point of reporting it because it’s been there for 20 years.

“Operation Scorpion has been a localised effort. We are not talking about the big crimes it takes years to get to court etc. Those are still happening, but these are in addition.”

Police have focused on county lines – drug networks linking urban and rural areas – anti-social behaviour, the night time economy and organised crime groups involved in cannabis production, the latter of which resulted in 58 raids and £6.5 million of weed seized in July’s operation, which the commissioner described as “really successful.”

Ms Hernandez said there had been a major lack of attention on cannabis in the past, as police were focused on drug deaths which led them to focus on heroin.

“I have been reported as saying we are pathetically weak in the area of enforcement around drugs, but particularly cannabis. We believe cannabis is the gateway drug. You never meet a heroin addict who started on heroin or a cocaine addict who started on cocaine.”

She said the prevention and education around drugs is still “quite weak” and there needs to be a political push for more drug treatment centres.

“There is an investment from government in combating drugs partnerships, but we have a gap in residential drug treatment. We need to help people get off these drugs.”

Cllr Laura Wright (Exeter City Council, Labour, St Thomas): “We all see the effects of drug-taking [and] drugs dependency. It’s not just crime; it’s social disruption and sometimes a complete loss of life at the end of it.

“We see in Exeter young people being targeted for drugs starting off with cannabis. I see it as a first step in the process.”

Members of the police and crime panel said mental health issues were linked to drugs use, and lack of mental health care and waiting lists for children to see professionals is unacceptable.

They said that vaping is “endemic” in schools and are concerned about cannabis and other drugs being put into vapes.

Cllr Mandy Ewings (Ind, Tavistock South West), said the Local Government Association is calling for a ban on disposable vapes, and wants helplines and Crimestoppers promoted in schools.

Ms Hernandez is promoting a “clear, hold, build” partnership approach, where the police clear problem areas of drugs, local authorities hold that situation and then build a drug-free community.

Her future plan concentrated on two geographical areas where local authorities were ready, and is  likely to include Torbay.

The seventh Operation Scorpion will take place next spring.