A letter from the Chief Constable about drug policy

We won’t achieve change unless there is awareness of the need for change, understanding of the need to change and finally actions that deliver change. Something like this will need to be part of the process so I thought I’d have a go with this draft.

Policing Drugs in Any Constabulary – Doing What Works

Dear colleague,

You will be aware that I have made it clear that we should change the way we tackle the harms caused by drugs and the criminal markets that supply them. May I make two things clear now: I am not in favour of people harming themselves by taking substances, whether illegally or not, and I remain convinced we must change our approach.

I have the full confidence of the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and many other public officials agree the need for change.

I hope this letter will help you play your part in developing more effective ways to reduce harmful drug use, and the crime and violence associated with drug supply.

“We need to do what works, not simply what we’ve always done.”

The PCC is setting new drug objectives for us. He will no longer regard more drug arrests and seizures as a measure of success (we will continue to monitor this activity) but look to outcomes such as reduced harmful drug use, reduced crime, violence and anti-social behaviour and increased referrals for treatment.

So, before using the criminal law to deal with a drug user ask yourself these questions:

Will this help the person I’m dealing with to improve their life? Will this help improve the lives of their families and friends? Will this help to improve the neighbourhood I police? Will it reduce crime in the longer term? Will it help reduce criminal profits from drug dealing?

If the answers are “No”, ask yourself why you are taking this action?

Here are some key reasons for change:

  1. Some drugs are more harmful than others and we should vary our approach accordingly.
  2. Not all drug users are the same.
  3. Some use less harmful drugs moderately with minimal, if any, harm caused, similar to moderate drinking. A criminal record is likely to cause them more harm than good.
  4. Some use drugs, often cannabis, to reduce the pain and suffering associated with conditions such as MS and Crohn’s disease and to tackle other serious conditions. To criminalise them seems to me to be a cruel and unnecessary use of our powers.
  5. Some users are dealing with traumatic incidents in their lives, (e.g. physical, emotional or sexual abuse) or mental illness or both. They need our support, not punishment.
  6. Many low level drug dealers are themselves problematic drug users. They also need our support, not punishment.
  7. Some problematic drug users are also prolific offenders. We should actively seek them out (not wait until they commit a crime) and offer support and treatment to help them change their lives and to reduce crime in the long term.
  8. Some problematic drug offenders engage in very antisocial behaviour and I understand that it’s hard to sympathise with them. But they are all somebody’s son, daughter, brother, sister, mother or father. I find it helps to think of them as the young, innocent children they once were; they didn’t intend to end up this way so let’s help them to overcome their difficulties, not make their situation worse.
  9. Overall, it costs less to treat and support drug users (if they need it) rather than to arrest and prosecute them.
  10. The less time we spend on non-problematic drug users the more we can spend on tackling serious and organised criminality.
  11. I am sure that we will see a change in the law and drugs will become legally controlled and regulated. Until then we must do all we can to tackle the harms caused by the drugs market; but remember this will not end the market, although it might provide temporary respite in a locality.
  12. I believe in enforcing the law; it is our duty, but I think it is helpful to distinguish between two different types of laws. Laws prohibiting crimes like assault and theft relate to actions that are clearly wrong in themselves. Laws prohibiting drug taking are like laws prohibiting religious observance or homosexuality; not wrong in themselves, just offences created according to current fashion.
  13. All drugs are more dangerous when their production and supply is in the hands of criminals.
  14. Law enforcement for over 40 years has not reduced drug use. Under prohibition drug use has increased massively. Criminals promote drug use in order to make huge profits from the illicit market. I don’t like that; I want to see that stop.
  15. Drug law enforcement is very expensive and because we have limited resources it means that we cannot spend enough time on other crimes such as thefts and assaults that cause real harm.

I need your help and support to develop new approaches for ourselves and for working with our partners. I will be organising opportunities for that to happen over the next few months.

Finally, carrying on the way we are is not an option.

“We Will Change – We Must Change”

Yours faithfully,

Chief Constable



About tomclloyd

International Drug Policy Adviser and former UK Chief Constable
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