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Articles - Crime, police & trafficking
Written by Alan Castree   

THE ROLE OF THE POLICE IN TACKLING DRUGS CRIME

By Alan Castree.

Introduction

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is a professional association which acts as a lobby group in advising and persuading the Government of ways and means of enforcing, interpreting and, if possible, changing criminal legislation. ACPO also advises forces on customs, practices and procedures. In anticipation of the publication of the White Paper the ACPO Crime Drugs Sub-Committee organised its annual conference two weeks after the publication of the English drugs and crime strategy, Tackling Crime Together. The conference was open to all forces and other interested agencies with its theme ‘The Way Forward’. The conference was very successful in promoting a wide range of views and experiences, particularly about the English drug strategy and its implementation.

Based on the conference and its recommendations, the ACPO drugs sub-committee set about producing a new strategic guidance document to advise individual forces in producing their own strategies. The summary strategic guidance document was sent to forces last autumn with the final version, including case studies, good practice and sources of research, to be published in the next few months. The full manual and the first issue of the newsheet will be launched at the next annual ACPO conference in June 1996.

What role should the police play in tackling the problem of drug abuse? The environment in which drug abuse exists is dynamic and multi-facetted. The police recognise they must adapt their role to changing circumstances while still enforcing the law. The police no longer place the emphasis on enforcement but see themselves increasingly involved in social issues through crime/drug work. It was encouraging to note the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ (ACMD) 1994 report regarded the police as moving more rapidly to shared agendas than many other agencies were doing

Indeed in the current national police objectives include: "To target and prevent crimes which are a particular local problem, including drug-related criminality in partnership with the public and local agencies." The police are keen to work with other agencies, not only for the social good but also to be aware fully of developments in this demanding field. They therefore welcomed the Government’s decision to set out a multi-agency strategy to address the drugs problem through a multi-agency approach over the next three years.

Tackling Drugs Together

Credit is due to the Central Drugs Co-ordination Unit (CDCU) for the strategy for England published in the White Paper, Tackling Drugs Together. This is a comprehensive document, albeit only for England but similar policies are at different stages of development in other parts of the UK. The first strategy in place was in Scotland. The document appeared after wide consultation. The police were pleased to be able to contribute both as a service and through individual chief constables. The finished document showed that many of the recommendations which the service had made had found their way into the strategic plan.

The White Paper sets milestones for the police; the main ones being:

Operational Changes

September 1995: Each police force to report to the Home Office on proposed changes in its operational arrangements.

March 1996: An explicit force strategy, which includes a balanced approach to enforcement, prevention and multi-agency partnerships, to be in place.

1995/96: Police forces, regional crime squads and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) must display "continued co-operation involving regular liaison, sharing of intelligence and planning of joint operations". These bodies will work with the Home Office to identify enhanced indicators in the implementation of drugs law enforcement.

June 1996: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary will begin to examine force strategies to ensure consistency with the Government’s strategy and the key objectives for the police.

1996/97: Each force will implement its drug strategy with local performance targets. The Home Office will work with the police in monitoring drug-related crime through statistical sampling.

1997/98: Each force will publish outcomes of performance targets and review these targets and strategies. The Home Office will review the effectiveness of police action.

The police are already working in partnership closely with other agencies, but the Government seeks formalisation of certain arrangements.

September 1995: Police to be part of the newly-formed Drug Action Teams (DAT).

December 1995: The police role to be clear in the strategies which heads of DAT will present.

The English drug strategy attempts to measure its effectiveness through key performance indicators. In relation to the police, these are:

(a) Over the three years of the strategy, the number of arrests and disposals of offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

(b) The level of public concern about drug-related crime as shown in opinion polls and surveys.

Strategies

Many forces did have drug strategies in place before the White Paper, but some were more explicit and more comprehensive than others. The White Paper leaves no doubt that police forces should embrace the statement of purpose, and aim to control not only the illicit supply of drugs but also the demand, especially among the young. Strategies will therefore include objectives such as:

To reduce the supply of drugs through major trafficking or street dealing.

To reduce the incidence of drug-related crime (as defined in the White Paper and in accordance with the Home Secretary’s key objective).

To reduce the public fear of drug-related crime.

To reduce the demand for drugs.

To assist in the reduction of harm and spread of drug-related illnesses.

To develop joint drug prevention and awareness initiatives for the young and the general public.

‘Harm minimisation’ or ‘reduction’ can be a difficult concept and can often convey different meanings to different people. The police service is at one with the Government that total abstinence from dangerous drugs is the only risk-free choice for consideration. However, the police do recognise certain benefits of ‘harm minimisation’ and do operate policies to help divert drug users from their habit, without tolerating drug misuse.

The Police Response

Enforcement

The police response to drugs traditionally had, from 1986, a three-tiered approach to drug dealing. This follows the strategic model of operation in an ACPO report referred to as the ‘Broome Report’. The investigation categories comprised (1) major international drug dealers and importers operating across force borders, (2) major dealers operating in a force area and (3) street level drug dealers. Police forces do not now follow this model rigidly. It is an acceptable guide but there is much overlap of the criminal activity of major traffickers between the middle and lower tiers. There is a case, therefore, to deploy resources at two levels only, combining the lower two into one, although most forces still operate at three levels.

The White Paper has also acted as a spur to fresh thinking on drugs amid competing police priorities. For example:

(i) Forces now place more emphasis in enforcement on good inteiligence and both the recruiting of informants and the training of officers in handling them.

(ii) The police now recognise a significant link between drugs and acquisitive crime such as burglary, shoplifting and auto crime, although the precise extent is only just becoming an area of regular measurement. Sufficient to say, that education, prevention and rehabilitation are now key themes in a police demand reduction programme to tackle drug related acquisitive crime.

(iii) Drug profiles of the local drug using population, behaviour and criminal activity, underpin operational decisions.

(iv) Regional Crime Squads and HM Customs and Excise have combined on a joint memorandum of understanding and in 1996 the police and customs will present and publish their annual statistics on drug seizures and offenders jointly instead of at different times and locations.

(v) Local initiatives include asking local authorities to consider conditions on public entertainment licences, in line with ACMD recommendations, and registration schemes for club security staff now include training in drug awareness and recognition.

(vi) The police are very active in providing advice on ‘designing out’ crime through their architectural liaison officers.

(vii) A review of training programmes has taken place to include general information to all officers and specialist training in such fields as ‘controlled buys’. Small forces are seconding officers to large forces to gain more knowledge and experience, and, increasingly, multi-agency training or inputs from drug agencies on police courses are the norm.

(viii) Police arrest referral schemes to divert drug using offenders will be run by every police force in line with England’s drug strategy.

(ix) Close co-operation and liaison with statutory and voluntary drug agencies, including an enthusiastic positive involvement in the new DATs and Drug Reference Groups (DRG).

(x) Production of drug prevention publicity material, for use within the community and within forces. This area of work has been supported by considerable effort in raising sponsorship for drug prevention initiatives.

(xi) Employment of a qualified nurse to visit custody suites and provide counselling and support to drug using persons in custody including juveniles.

(xii) Joint nationa! campaigns launched such as ‘Drugs in Sport’ with the Football Association, Professional Footballers’Association and the Sports Council in May 1995.

Challenge Ahead

Nobody said the job would be easy. How often have we thought that, or heard it, in connection with the drugs problems? There are challenges ahead in connection with each of the main points above unless all agencies can sustain and increase their efforts. Immediate challenges include the growth in casual drug consumption when the consumers know the short-term appealing effects but have little or no idea of the medium or long-term effects. Statistics for 1994 showed a 50 per cent rise in seizures involving Ecstasy and current trends show little change for 1996. Recent seizures of crack cocaine suggest a rapid growth in supply and problematic use. This drug is seen potentially as a new and growing problem related to acquisitive crime. Gangland executions exemplify the tensions present among dealers of illicit substances.

The rapid increase in the use of anabolic steroids by the young, which can lead to polydrug use, has stimulated a need for legislation due in 1996. The desire to take these substances appears to be either for performance enhancement in sport or for the rapid build-up of muscle mass and development of the ‘body beautiful’. There are many types of anabolic steroids, which, from an enforcement perspective, will pose a challenge in training and initial identification of drugs.

Demand reduction programmes will require a sea change in attitudes to drugs, particularly by the young. This will be achieved by persuasion, through education, of the young to listen to advice on the dangers of the unknown. Constant, structured learning programmes starting with primary school children are essential. The police make every effort to keep young offenders out of the criminal justice system by cautioning. There is a strong case for strengthening the cautioning system for drug users by imposing the condition of accepting therapy treatment to prevent appearance at court. Therapy must, of course, be voluntary.

Employers should be aware of the problem of drugs in the workplace, which any employer would wish to avoid. It is an emerging problem, requiring multi-agency response. Workplace policies need to be ‘substance based’ and be part of health and safety policies. The police, for example, can play an important part in developing a health and safety template for employers.

The White Paper provides a sound model for DATs and DRGs but there needs to be unity of opinion to make good progress on a number of fronts. Failure to co-operate or to achieve agreed targets by one agency can let down others and ultimately the public. There is a need for strong leadership and co-ordination and a network of exchange of ideas and good practice and ultimately fusion of minds and ideas among agencies. Money laundering occupies much police time and many resources. ACPO have focus groups looking at this problem. Interpol estimated that in 1994 œ100 billion was laundered after illegal activity, the vast majority of which is drug-related.

The 1995 ACPO conference on drugs looked at most and in detail at some of the component parts of such issues.

Attention to detail is needed to forge a way ahead, for example:

The police need to evaluate arrest referral schemes and work with other agencies to make them effective.

The training of custody officers, police surgeons, lay visitors must be constantly up-to-date.

Close links with the community must be established and preserved. How else can the police attempt to gain a better understanding of the growth in casual drug consumption? Can better use be made of existing community networks?

Conclusion

The drug problem has grown and changed its shape over the years. It’s therefore important to monitor the drugs market at all levels. Designer drugs, derivations of cannabis (eg skunkweed) and cocaine (eg crack) have implications to the user in both health and behavioural terms. The ever-changing dimensions will create new demands on the police. The pace of change in the local, national and international drugs arena is rapid, and targets of police and other agencies must include effective partnerships in enforcement and prevention. The drug problem is not just local but global and the UK police endeavour to play a significant role on the world stage. NCIS is considered by many countries to be an ideal model for the gathering and dissemination of intelligence. The development of Europol’s role is achingly slow as European countries try to come together and ratify its constitution. The European Union does have an action plan to combat drugs for 1995-1999 and the problem is of high priority. Here again, however, firm and clear leadership is essential and the pace of progress must not be allowed to slacken.

Alan Castree is Greater Manchester Police’s assistant chief constable and secretary of ACPO crime committee’s drugs sub-committee.

 

Our valuable member Alan Castree has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.