A Drug Strategy for Police and Crime Commissioners
A critical role for the new PCCs will be to set the budget for the Police Force’s annual Policing Plan. Impact assessments of current or proposed practices will be integral to this process. Will the proposed action be practical? Will it deliver the intended benefits? Will it do so in the most efficient way?
This is not a step into operational interference; the Chief Constable will propose activities based on his or her expertise, but they will only be funded if they meet those tests. This is no more than the PCC fulfilling his or her duty to the citizens he or she represents. Public money should not be spent on expensive, ineffective activities.
When it comes to drug law enforcement over the last 40 years there is clear evidence that the key aims of supply and demand reduction have not been met. Supply and consumption has increased substantially over that period, and the number of criminals involved and profits from the illicit market (estimated at up to £6 billion per annum) has also increased substantially. Unfortunately this failure has also been accompanied by huge expenditure by the government (estimated at over £10 billion per annum). This is not a sustainable state of affairs.
It is beyond the scope of this strategy to change the current laws, but it is reasonable to exercise discretion in how they are enforced. Police are already constantly making choices about how to deploy limited resources to deliver maximum benefits to citizens.
As a PCC, I would abandon failed drug law enforcement objectives such as numbers of arrests and amount of drugs seized and introduce objectives designed to reduce harms such as drug-related violence, corruption and crime, community disorder, addiction and avoidable death and disease.
Under prohibition drug dealing will not be eradicated, the last 40 years have shown us that, and it is therefore pointless to work towards that objective. It does make sense, however, to seek to minimise the harmful activities of drug dealers, perhaps by arrest and prosecution, but also by other methods that might be more effective and better value for money. Our current approach may make us feel better when a drug dealer is sent to prison, but it does not impact the market.
We have not yet asked the police to adopt this new approach. Many police officers know that the current system isn’t working therefore we should not limit our options to only the criminal justice based approach. I am confident that the police will quickly adapt and innovate and there are opportunities to learn from effective examples in the UK and around the world.
Those resources that are available to the PCC to deploy towards community safety would be spread among organisations that would work together in pursuit of these new common objectives. Instead of prosecuting drug users, an expensive and counter-productive activity, efforts would be directed towards co-ordinated efforts to help and support people on the road to a better, less harmful and more productive life.
Police would collaborate with partners, not conflict with them, in seeking joint solutions to these issues.
Evidence shows that spending on treatment saves considerably more money elsewhere, e.g. reduced crime and health costs.
This approach will help the police to direct their limited resources more efficiently at delivering real benefits to the citizens they serve.