Police back softer line on drug users
By BBC News – Thursday, 2 May, 2002
Copyright: BBC News
Police chiefs say they would have a better chance of winning the war on drugs if addicts were given treatment instead of punishment.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) also believes it would be better to adopt a more relaxed stance towards people caught with small amounts of cannabis.
ACPO unveiled its proposals in a report, carried out by its influential drugs committee, saying in some circumstances, treatment should be considered instead of prosecution.
Drugs’ groups have welcomed the report, saying ACPO had been moving in this direction for some time.
And the Home Office has pledged to study the findings.
Commander Andy Hayman, chairman of the ACPO committee that produced the report, said: “It is predominantly a health issue so what we’re saying is that we should be matching the health issue with the health option.
“Rather than just putting people through the courts, surely it’s sensible to try and put them into treatment and try and treat their habit.”
Roger Howard, chief executive of Drugscope, a research and drugs policy advisory body, said the proposals came as no surprise.
He said: “We strongly support efforts to get drug users quickly into treatment rather than using a prosecution and pressing criminal charges.
“It is something Drugscope has already recommended to the Home Affairs Committee.
“This is a new and welcome departure in how we respond to the heavy end drug users.
“The police are recognising that treatment works rather than just processing addicts through the courts.”
Dave Roberts, head of Liverpool rehabilitation centre the Independence Initiative, also welcomed the police chiefs’ call.
“It makes sense to treat, train and develop people who have developed a problem of substance mis-use because they can break with it and they can create a new life,” he said.
But among critics former shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe described the move as “the policy of surrender” and advocated tougher application of the law.
Speaking on BBC News 24, she said: “The law isn’t properly enforced.
“Unless you send out the message, not only that there is a law, but also that it will be enforced and then you enforce it properly with extra manpower and dedicated resources, then the present law won’t work.”
She stressed the need for a dual policy of punishment and treatment.
She said: “You could perhaps make an agreement to treatment a case to mitigate or lower the punishment, but you still do both.”
There was also a cautious response from some in the medical profession.
Drugs treatment specialist Dr William Shanahan told BBC News there was “anxiety” that people who simply wanted to avoid prison would take advantage of treatment if offered as an alternative.
But he added: “This doesn’t mean they won’t do well with treatment and I think it is a good idea to offer more people treatment.”
Commander Hayman, who is a Scotland Yard deputy assistant commissioner, said his committee’s report was “timely” given recent government announcements, which have included the downgrading of cannabis.
He stressed that the overall aim of ACPO’s drugs policy was to disrupt and reduce supply while working to achieve reduction in demand.
Last December, it emerged that police chiefs had examined proposals to issue heroin at police stations, to addicts.
However, chief constables reportedly remain opposed to the decriminalisation of drugs and are also against the downgrading of Ecstasy from class A to class B.