We’ve lost war on drugs, says Crime Com­mis­sioner

Warwickshire Telegraph - - NEWS - By JAMES RODGER

WEST Mid­lands Po­lice and Crime Com­mis­sioner David Jamieson says it’s time to ac­cept that “we have lost the war on drugs”.

And he thinks it’s time for ‘an adult con­ver­sa­tion’ on the topic, say­ing that we should be treat­ing drug ad­dicts as peo­ple with a health prob­lem rather than crim­i­nals.

The il­le­gal drug trade costs pub­lic ser­vices in the West Mid­lands ap­prox­i­mately £1.4 bil­lion each year as well as caus­ing half of all ac­quis­i­tive crime such as theft and bur­glary. In Fe­bru­ary the PCC out­lined a series of ‘trans­for­ma­tive’ drug poli­cies for the re­gion and trav­elled to Switzer­land in June on a fact-find­ing mis­sion to see how a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to drug users worked.

Poli­cies such as heroin as­sisted treat­ment rooms, where users could be pre­scribed a small dose of safe heroin by a doc­tor, as well as a drug-test­ing pro­gramme that al­lowed for the safe test­ing of users’ drugs, has seen the num­ber of drug-re­lated over­doses halve in the coun­try.

Mr Jamieson be­lieves that the UK should be look­ing into sim­i­lar poli­cies be­cause the cur­rent ap­proach is not work­ing.

“What I said I wanted to do, about 18 months ago, is I wanted to get an adult con­ver­sa­tion go­ing about drugs,” he said.

“I want to re­fo­cus drugs pol­icy to the harm, to the crimes caused that are con­nected with drugs, and then the cost of it all.

“Be­cause on all three things we’re get­ting it wrong. In pub­lic pol­icy the war on drugs, as we call it, we have lost.

“And it’s an ex­pen­sive war that we’re car­ry­ing on that’s fail­ing. And it’s fail­ing the peo­ple on drugs, it’s fail­ing the peo­ple who suf­fer from the para­pher­na­lia on the streets, and are wor­ry­ing about their chil­dren get­ting in­volved. And it’s hit­ting the tax­payer big time.

“It’s cost­ing us all a hell of a lot of money for some­thing that’s very in­ef­fec­tive.

“One of the ar­eas that we’re look­ing at is bring­ing the pro­ba­tion type work for­ward, so that many peo­ple on drugs can get help, di­vert­ing them away from their crim­i­nal­ity.

“Be­cause we’ve got a prison heav­ing with par­tic­u­larly young men, who are there for mi­nor deal­ing crimes.

“And they’re mainly do­ing the mi­nor deal­ing be­cause they’re try­ing to feed their habit. And it’s just crazy.

“And in some cases we are look­ing at the health ser­vice. Could the health ser­vice pre­scribe cer­tain things? Be­cause then of course they don’t need to steal, they don’t need para­pher­na­lia on the street. So we’re look­ing at that as an ap­proach.

“And again in the long term, which is what we see in coun­try’s like Switzer­land, there’s an ini­tial cost to the health ser­vice, but then medium-term/ long-term, the cost goes down, be­cause you’re not spread­ing dis­ease.

“Peo­ple on drugs like that, peo­ple liv­ing dys­func­tional lives, need a lot more health care. They’re in and out of hos­pi­tal all the time, these peo­ple, and what we want to do is try and reg­u­late their lives, so in fact there’s a sav­ing there.

“But the sav­ing also comes from a low­er­ing of crime, be­cause bur­glar­ies and steal­ing are re­duced. Half of all shoplift­ing is down to peo­ple steal­ing It’s an ex­pen­sive war that we’re car­ry­ing on that’s fail­ing...I want to get an adult con­ver­sa­tion go­ing...

for their next fix of their drugs.

“So I’m look­ing re­ally at how we can ac­tu­ally help peo­ple who have al­ways been looked on as drug­gies, the low­est of the low, crim­i­nals.

“And we’re say­ing ac­tu­ally they’re not drug­gies, they’re peo­ple’s chil­dren. And they’re not crim­i­nals, they’re ac­tu­ally peo­ple who have got a health prob­lem. And once we start iden­ti­fy­ing peo­ple and start think­ing about them like that, we’ll start solv­ing their prob­lems, solv­ing so­ci­ety’s prob­lems, and re­duc­ing the cost.”

Last week Home Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid, speak­ing in Birm­ing­ham at the Con­ser­va­tive Party Con­fer­ence, an­nounced a ma­jor re­view of the il­le­gal drug mar­ket, pledg­ing that, on his watch, “il­le­gal drug use will never be tol­er­ated.”

And, while the PCC agrees that drugs are an is­sue that need to be dealt with, he be­lieves we should be look­ing across the spec­trum for an­swers, rather than throw­ing more peo­ple in prison.

In 2001 Por­tu­gal de­crim­i­nalised all drugs, with the coun­try see­ing a dra­matic drop in over­doses, HIV in­fec­tions and drug-re­lated crime as a re­sult.

And Mr Jamieson be­lieves that it’s time the coun­try ex­am­ined Por­tu­gal’s ap­proach, and had an ‘adult con­ver­sa­tion’ about its ap­proach to the il­le­gal drugs trade.

“The drugs trade is spurring most of the very se­ri­ous crime that we’ve got,” he said.

“Nearly all the gun dis­charges, they’re not bank rob­beries, they are peo­ple who are set­tling scores over drugs. And quite a lot, not all, but quite a lot of the knife crime is as­so­ci­ated with the drug trade. “What I’m do­ing is I’m say­ing I’m go­ing to work through my eight­point plan, of which we are work­ing through seven at the mo­ment, and pro­gress­ing them, which are within the cur­rent law.

“I want to work within the cur­rent law, mainly be­cause I want to do some­thing now, rather than post­pone it for some time in the fu­ture. See if I wait for this won­der­ful day in the fu­ture where we do some­thing else, in the mean­time things aren’t get­ting bet­ter. And it may never hap­pen.

“In the longer term, the idea of the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of drugs, I think that’s where we need this big, grown up de­bate.

“And we want to start ex­am­in­ing that as an op­tion. And start ask­ing all the ques­tions around it.”

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