Is public consultation a counter-productive waste of time?

Much time and effort is spent by Police and Crime Commissioners talking to members of the public in the name of consultation. Is this a waste of time? Does it actually make things worse?

No doubt they will hear many complaints, praise, calls for action and suggestions for improvement from a range of people who can be bothered to turn up at organised events or stop to talk outside their local supermarkets. No doubt they will listen with a sympathetic ear and earnest expression and make suitably conciliatory noises suggesting change but promising little. No doubt they will feel pleased that they have discharged their legal duty to consult.

And, if they have got any sense, they will totally disregard what they have heard as self-selected, unrepresentative, biased, anecdotal, unreliable, distorted and ill-informed comment. If they actually based their strategic plan on what they have heard they would be in danger of pandering to single issue fanatics and/or individuals and groups with narrow self-serving agendas.

Instead, they should turn to pollsters reliably to determine the real needs (not loudly shouted wants) of the most vulnerable in society and form their strategies accordingly. Of course those strategic requirements (as desired outcomes) should be placed before the Chief Constable who will carefully craft tactics that will deliver them.

But they will also be in danger of having garnered a list of desired actions rather than carefully considered outcomes. A very good example of this lies in the area of drug law and policy. Most people will clamour for more law enforcement effort to be directed towards those who use and supply drugs even though the evidence of the last 40 years reveals this approach to be a hugely expensive, counter-productive and harmful failure. We should instead ask what outcomes the public would like; e.g. less harmful use, less crime, less disorder, less profit going to criminals, etc., not how many arrests or seizures they would like to see.

When visiting my doctor I am happy to recount my symptoms, with the implicitly assumed outcome that I want to get better, but I do not decide the course of treatment, drugs to be prescribed, etc.. I leave that to the professionals.

The professionals here, the police, are hampered in their prescribing efforts because they are operating under the failed policy of prohibition. Many police know this won’t work but have to do their duty to enforce the current law.

The newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners can help their police services to deliver better outcomes by insisting that government debate and change the drug laws so that citizens get respite from the self-perpetuating cycle of drugs being sold to every new generation of children, with all the accompanying (and avoidable) death, disease, crime and corruption.

Our current approach is not protecting anybody from the illicit drug market; in fact it sustains that market which happily exploits the prohibition of desirable products for huge profit.

The customer is not always right.

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About tomclloyd

International Drug Policy Adviser and former UK Chief Constable
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2 Responses to Is public consultation a counter-productive waste of time?

  1. The trouble is people are real, populations are ephemeral.

    Look at the introduction to the drug-driving regulations consultation. ‘I met family members…’

    Politicians like to point at the people they are ‘helping’. It is much harder to point out all the people who are harmed by a decision.

  2. issiwo says:

    Tom – thanks for your helpful comment on my blog (www.the-diluvium.com). I’ve been trying to get in touch but can’t find any contact details for you here. If you were of a mind, perhaps you might contact me via my blog. It would be great to chat.

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