Police chief’s unorthodox approach
By BBC News – Friday, 15 March, 2002
Copyright: BBC News
An openly gay, Oxford-educated liberal who pioneered a controversial approach to drug laws may not seem like the most obvious candidate for one of Britain’s toughest police jobs.
Add to the mix comments like “the concept of anarchism has always appealed to me” and many people may wonder how Brian Paddick was able to join the force at all.
But while the Lambeth commander has no shortage of critics, he seems to have won an equal amount of support from the residents of one of London’s more ‘difficult’ boroughs.
Faced with high levels of crime, including drug abuse, Mr Paddick has been praised by many people for his determination to look at unorthodox solutions – most famously his controversial decision not to prosecute people caught with small amounts of cannabis.
The chief has declared the approach a huge success. He said it has improved community relations, saved police time and led to a “dramatic increase” in the number of arrests for hard drugs.
Mr Paddick joined the Metropolitan Police 25 years ago after leaving Oxford University and has since earned a reputation as one its most modernising senior officers.
He first worked in Lambeth in 1982 as a beat officer in Brixton and has seen the type of drugs for sale on its streets change over time.
Mr Paddick says cannabis was the only widely available drug when he first started, but the more serious problems of heroin and crack cocaine soon followed.
The high level of drug use and abuse in Brixton and the surrounding area led Mr Paddick to consider solutions which have put him directly at odds with his bosses and mid-market tabloid newspapers.
Zero-tolerance proponents saw red when he announced a six-month pilot scheme under which people caught with cannabis would not be arrested.
Instead they were issued with an on-the-spot warning and had their drugs confiscated, ‘freeing’ police to concentrate on the fight against hard drugs.
The ranks of critics swelled further when Mr Paddick said arresting people for possession of ecstasy was “a waste of valuable police resources” and that he would rather “turn a blind eye” to the use of cocaine.
Mr Paddick’s claims that recreational drug use was not a priority saw the commander rebuked by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens.
He was also forced to explain the views were his and not those of the force.
But for Jane Betts, whose daughter Leah was killed by ecstasy six years ago, the damage was already done.
She said: “I’m sick of senior police officers who are just worried about balancing their books. They don’t give a stuff about the kids on the street.”
Controversy has not dampened Mr Paddick’s determination to bring in reform, though.
He has become a regular contributor to the http://www.urban75.com website, where he has admitted that his colleagues in the force consider him “beyond redemption”.
He recently created a furore when he posted his views on anarchism.
“The concept of anarchism has always appealed to me,” the police chief wrote.
“The idea of the innate goodness of the individual that is corrupted by society or the system.
“It is a theoretical argument but I am not sure everyone would behave well if there were no laws and no system.”
Mr Paddick used the site to post other views, recently offering the thought: “The bottom line is, screw the dealers, help the addicts.”
He also denounced zero-tolerance treatment of crime as being tantamount to creating a “police state”.
The comments have provoked a strong response from other website users, perhaps encouraging him to carry on speaking out when others would choose to remain silent.
Among those in favour, ‘Hatboy’ is typical: “I think it’s great that you say you don’t have set ideas on how to tackle the crime problems in Brixton…Often the most enlightened people are the ones who can say ‘I don’t know’.”