Thursday, 30 July 2009

uk police: drug war not winnable

July 30, 2009

Police 'cannot win drugs war and should focus on damage limitation'


(Johnny Green/PA)

Report cites the example of the US city of Boston, where murder rates fell when police offered not to prosecute gangsters for dealing drugs if they stopped killing each other

Police should switch their focus away from arresting drug dealers and concentrate on managing the harm they cause, according to an influential report.

The UK Drug Policy Commission says new dealers take the place of those arrested and often bring new problems such as violent turf wars. The report calls for the authorities to admit that if they cannot eradicate drug markets they should reduce the damage drugs inflict on local communities.

It said the police and other agencies should prioritise the most harmful characteristics of drug markets and focus on addressing them. The report suggests the authorities should focus on cracking down on particularly harmful behaviours linked to drugs including gun violence, sexual exploitation and the use of children and as lookouts or couriers.

“Levels of enforcement activity appear to bear no direct relationship to levels of drug use or availability,” the report said. “Traditionally, drug enforcement efforts have focused on arrests and seizures, with the aim of reducing supply but drug markets are large, resilient, and quick to adapt.”

It suggested “seeking to displace a market to another area, where it will have less impact”.

The commission cites the example of the US city of Boston, where murder rates fell when police offered not to prosecute gangsters for dealing drugs if they stopped killing each other.

The report published today included a survey of police and other law enforcement agents, who concluded that the war on drugs is not winnable in the near future. Nine out of 10 of those questioned said it was “unlikely” the UK drugs markets would be eradicated soon.

Roger Howard, Chief Executive of the commission, said: “Although it may seem logical that taking dealers and drugs off our streets will deliver improvements, this isn’t always the case.

“The question to ask is: Are we tackling the right markets, in the right way, to deliver real and sustainable change? Fewer arrests and seizures, but of the right kind, may be much more beneficial.

“Drug markets will inevitably remain, and some enforcement agencies are beginning to prioritise their resources and efforts to curb the most harmful aspect of these."

The report concludes that most markets in drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin are deeply entrenched in communities and are able to survive the traditional enforcement operations by police and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

It warns that simply seizing more drugs and increasing the number of arrests for dealing and possessing illegal substances may have little benefit for communities. In some cases, it says, the strategy actually makes things worse for local neighbourhoods.

In some areas dealers who are arrested by the police are replaced in a few hours by others willing to sell drugs.

The report said that that in some places police attempts to curb dealing often only leads to the problem moving to a new area and the opening of alternative supply routes. In the worst cases, the report said, arresting drug dealers fuels turf wars as new people move in to take over a market.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former leader of the Conservative Party, disputed the commission’s interpretation of the Boston experiment and derided the report, which he said was too strongly based on the wishes of the police.

“I think our drug strategy is a mess,” he said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “My problem with these recommendations is that its looked at the existing drug strategy as though there is some way of containing what is an existing mess. I’m rather tired of this policy being left in the hands of the police.”

The Home Office minister Alan Campbell said: “Tough enforcement is a fundamental part of our drug strategy, and the police continue to make real progress in tackling the supply of illegal drugs and in reducing the harm they cause.

“As the report states, harm reduction underpins every element of our approach to tackling this complex issue.

“That is why we are already cracking down on the most serious drugs, working with countries around the world, such as Columbia, to prevent drugs reaching the UK and empowering communities to work with the police to tackle drugs through Neighbourhood Policing."

The commission was set up two years ago with the objectives of providing independent and objective analysis of UK drug policy.

David Bolt, Director of Intelligence for the Serious Organised Crime Agency, said: “To succeed in reducing the harm caused to the UK by the drugs trade we need an intelligent combination of traditional law enforcement alongside new and innovative approaches.

“The report acknowledges the harm reduction approach which Soca has pioneered in the way it prioritises operations and identifies targets. There is considerable potential for further harm reduction in extending this approach through effective partnerships which tackle the problem from all angles in a co-ordinated and sustained manner.

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