Posted: Tuesday 18th August 2015
Police forces have faced well-documented financial challenges forcing them to make difficult, often unpopular, decisions. Given the volume of cuts to officer strength and resources in recent years, it is only natural that the public should feel sceptical of any change and quite rightly ask questions about how our decisions will impact on them.
Recently, I spoke out in support of my colleague in Durham, Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg, about the practical difficulties of tackling personal cannabis use at a time when police forces are facing intense demand from higher priority, victim-based crime. These comments were reported nationally and I would like to clarify the situation for local people.
It has never been my position that drug taking should be ignored by police. However, in an era of finite resources and multimillion pound cuts to budgets, we have to be realistic about our capabilities. Prioritising incidents of personal cannabis use which have no effect on any third party at the expense of protecting vulnerable victims of crime facing immediate danger is not the best use of police time.
It is never acceptable to use cannabis and I’m not saying the police shouldn’t prosecute - it is simply a question of priorities and who is at greater risk of harm. When operational decisions are made, those at risk of abuse or violence must take precedence however each set of circumstances should be evaluated individually.
There are some situations in which personal cannabis or small-scale cannabis growth does impact on other people such as close neighbours in private or social housing situations. This is a scenario in which there is quite clearly an external victim or victims and I would not want such a complaint to be ignored. Frontline officers would be expected to assess the impact on others when making decisions based on risk and harm.
Tackling drug supply remains a focus of the force and significant resources are directed into disrupting the operations of sophisticated, organised criminals who produce drugs on a larger scale. The public are concerned with drug dealing within their communities and I can assure local residents that we are utilising all of our intelligence-gathering channels and covert tools to penetrate this illegal activity.
Growing cannabis for personal use is illegal and Derbyshire officers will continue to enforce the law in the appropriate circumstances. However, in cases where people require help for a personal addiction, then we need to consider whether we can better aid their recovery by signposting them to an appropriate support agency.
Other police colleagues have come forward to support such a stance. The truth is, these views are not new and have been long-regarded as practical in the era of austerity and in the context of an increasingly ‘holistic’ approach to crime. It’s time to think again and hold an evidence-based review into how as a society we can better deal with the drug problems facing individuals, families and society as a whole.