How the police can lead the way on drug policy reform - Callum Robertson in 1828

September 16, 2020 4:45 PM
By Callum Robertson in 1828
Originally published by Essex Liberal Democrats

Most readers will not have been following the upcoming police (fire) and crime commissioner elections which are due to occur in May 2021. Though given the lack of publicity around the elections and historical turnout levels, this isn't terribly surprising.

Police and crime commissioners first came into being in 2012. The first set of elections had a turnout of just 15.1 per cent, with the second elections in 2016 hitting the dizzy heights of a 26.6 per cent, although turnout was higher in areas with additional elections happening at the same time. With the next set of elections due in May 2021 alongside a bumper crop of other elections, the turnout should improve dramatically.

The role of the police and crime commissioners was envisioned to increase direct accountability on policing matters to the general public. Within this role, there also exists the responsibility to craft and implement a crime plan. The implication of the crime plan is that it sets the broad strategy of the constabulary for a number of years.

The radically under-discussed part of the PCCs remit is that, if their powers are used well, they can have a transformative impact on policing within their constabulary area.

One specific area of impact they can have is on drug policy. Yet, aside from the late Ron Hogg, no police and crime commissioner has come close to adopting a sensible approach to tackling addiction and drug use in England and Wales.

The Hogg plan essentially brought in a discretion-based policy where as long as you didn't light up in front of an officer, you would be just fine. It was essentially decriminalisation by the back door. Most importantly, it has been a massive success in reallocating resources, allowing the Durham police force to become the best performing police force in the country.

This got me thinking, as part of my campaign to become the police, fire and crime commissioner for Essex, what could I do to radically free up police resources, allowing the force to focus on more important areas like the worrying uptick in Covid-related domestic violence incidents or protecting vulnerable groups from online fraud.

The solution came to me, that we could marry the Hogg plan with the known fact that we waste one million hours of police time annually on policing cannabis alone. We could take the Hogg plan and extend it to all illegal drugs for personal use.

While this approach is seemingly a sweeping change, it would be transformative in helping move the UK towards a public health approach to drug use. The approach, which has been proven to work in Portugal, would be a game-changer in not only freeing up police time to tackle issues such as domestic violence but in reducing numbers of HIV infections and reduce crime across the board.

Given the tight budgetary restrictions in place for police forces, it is time for forward-thinking and creative solutions to making resources go further. Radically rethinking how we police drugs is a key part of those solutions. It just requires police and crime commissioners with the political courage to do it in May.