United Kingdom Police Policy
Well, what do you think is current police policy in the UK? Here are some indicators.
Former operational head of Scotland Yards Drug Squad argues for legalisation.
Former Chief Constable of Gwent argues Human Rights case for cannabis use.
Chief Constable of Cumbria argues for legalisation of cannabis.
Cleveland Police Authority, with Deputy Chief constable, tells government that prohibition is failing and that legalisation should be assessed.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police argues that successful prohibition enforcement would swamp civil liberties. We should think the unthinkable legalisation.
Two Chief officers on the Runciman report ally themselves with potential de-criminalisation of cannabis.
National Drug Czar, former Chief Constable, clarifies that possession is not a priority.
But I do suspect that may not be how you perceive the current policing approaches.
You are entitled to be confused about these police attitudes and approaches from the agency responsible for enforcement of prohibition.
It is today's policing policy that has most effect on today's drug users but to understand how the police service has arrived at today's current, complex, unclear, non-standard, locally led, untidy collection of U.K. enforcement policies it is best to examine the realtionship betwen general policing and drug policing.
We have to pick a start point and, in common with the revolutions in pop music, teenage financial independence, sexual freedom, the concept of individual civil liberties, and many other revolutions, it all started in the sixties.
Almost forty years and the arguments have changed little. Thats the bad news. The good is that the arguments are now voiced, not by a minority of users and a few pressure groups, but by a wide range of professions and a high percentage of the general public. The only U K profession not allowed to have an open, honest debate about any alternative approaches is, unfortunately, the one that should be having the debate, the Members of Parliament. They are so hemmed in by party political considerations that any individual with the courage to make anything but the most bland statement is hounded by his party whips into silent submission.
The SOMA advertisement in The Times of July 1967 presented a case for legalisation under the heading the law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice. The advertisement is well known for the variety and stature of the signatures, but one paragraph encapsulated policing at that time.
The prohibition of cannabis has brought the law into disrepute and has demoralised police officers faced with the necessity of enforcing an unjust law. Uncounted thousands of frightened persons have been arbitrarily classified as criminals and threatened with arrest, victimisation and loss of livelihood .. they have been hunted down with alsation dogs or stopped on the street at random and improperly searched. The National Council for Civil Liberties has called attention to instances where drugs have apparently been planted on suspected cannabis smokers. Chief Constables have appealed to the public to inform on their neighbours and children. Yet, despite these gross impositions and the threat to civil liberties which they pose, the police freely admit that they have been unable to prevent the spread of cannabis smoking.
On the face of it the police service has moved a long way from that description to the variety of comments with which I opened. But life is never that simple.
Within sixteen months of the advertisement the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence published a report. It is generally termed the Wooton Report. In summary they commented the dangers of cannabis use, as commonly accepted in the past, and the risk of progression to opiates have been overstated. Current criminal sanctions are unjustifiably severe. They concluded with a recommendation that amounts to the de-criminalisation of cannabis. What receives little publicity is that a senior member of that committee was Sir Peter Brodie, then the Assistant Commissioner of Crime in the Metropolitan Police, Londons most senior officer in the crime department.
So .. how does the police service get from the Times allegation of oppressive planting to legalisation lobbyists? You will be very pleased, but not surprised to know, that the blame lies with the Home Office. You will recognise the refrain, the blame lies with education , education, education.
The previous history of police management and leadership was military. Senior officers were commonly drawn from the military, training took place within a military context and police, through their leaders, did their duty. They knew their place, did as they were told, unswerving loyalty to crown and government... and end up with a medal. Give us a problem, we can do it. Give us the manpower, give us the resources, we can solve the problem.
"Drunk driving, give us the law and a breathalyser.
Organised crime in East London, no problem Mr Home Secretary... I'll set up a gangbuster team.
Train Robbery .. how dare they mess with the Royal Mail.... Thirty years at least.
Robberies in London .... have no fear .... the Flying Squad is here.
Drugs, certainly .... Have a drugs squad.
Pornography, no trouble .... yet another specialism."
Superficially it was fine. The public knew their place. The police were above reproach. We all trust a policeman. Fine body of men.
The forties, the fifties, the sixties&... plain sailing.
Then...... what was below the surface bubbled out. The start of internal investigations brought out allegations of recycling by the drug squad, of financial corruption by pornography barons, very senior detectives implicated, acceptable, overwhelming evidence of tampering with evidence in major trials, leaders out of touch with community needs and the amalgamation of many small police forces into major organisations. Big companies and no trained, experienced managers or leaders of sufficient quality.
Worst of all was a final recognition that neither the police, or indeed any other single agency, could not solve any specific social problem without co-operation. And the police service had no history whatsoever of co-operation.
So the Home Office decided to educate the police service. A combination of higher calibre recruits, of a national police college in Hampshire, of specialist training, of training for future responsibilities, of skills such as financial management, town planning, of the benefits of multi-agency approach, use of technology, of media training, of deploying and understanding research departments and of the evolution of the legislation . A professional revolution.
What had been a job became a profession. With all its accoutrements. Qualifications, selection, interchange between forces, progress through rural, town and city policing, career planning, specialisation.
But with all this came another development. If a manager can think, can research, can consider options, can argue for change, then he may come up with an answer that differs from what he is told to do. This is the present strain within policing. The current crop of leaders are concluding that there are options for change that may well be beneficial to police and public but are not the currently expressed will of government . And policing has a very real problem.
Constitutionally the police are the servants of the public through parliament. I, and you may well agree with me, do not particularly wish to live in a country where the police are responsible for legislation. There are examples of countries where police, and sometimes the military, control through enacting their own legislation. That is not a model that I would wish on the UK. Senior police managers generally wish to retain the situation where policing remains subservient to government and people. With such a wish how can policing even suggest current legislation is wrong.
Policing has always had an input into law making. At the research level they are invited to comment. When laws are enacted there is a feedback loop to correct errors in drafting. Recent examples are the breathalyser , the dangerous dogs legislation, domestic violence, where police experience feeds back into parliaments discussions and argues, privately, for change. But there is no precedent for policing to go to government and tell it, just maybe, that it has got it all wrong.
In the field of drug use we have a unique situation. Experience shows that another policy has a better chance of achieving more aims but getting that message across requires a much more subtle approach. Policing cannot, with the UK model, impose a law change on government.
What it can do, and you may think that such a process is well under way, is respond operationally to changing social standards. Policing can reduce the specific specialist manpower in a given field, it can respond with identifying differing priorities (in so doing it identifies that certain offences are not a priority), it can openly discuss options without being blatantly critical of the status quo, conferences, etc., it can produce accurate data for others to use in debate and it can reflect the emerging public mood by promoting cautions rather than prosecutions.
But if the police manager is moving towards such changed priorities then what factors have been important in that change.
Firstly the organisation considers its resources, its manpower. Drug work presents a problem.
Let me introduce you to the reason we have police. The primary object of an efficient police is the prevention of crime, the next the detection and apprehension of the offender once a crime has been committed. Nothing new in that, the words are those of the first London Commissioner in 1829. Remember . Prevention is first. Policing fails if crime actually occurs.
In the case of almost all other crimes the general pattern is that the public, often the victim, tells police about a crime and it is investigated . When a pattern, or a repetition of crimes occur, police deploy pro-actively to be present at the commission or make arrests to prevent the occurrence. The organisation keeps a record of the crimes reported and their efficiency in solutions / arrests.
Police efficiency is measured by a comparison between the levels of crimes committed and the rate of arrests. Drug work ruins all that performance measurement. Back in those revolutionary sixties drug arrests were recorded for statistical purposes only.
It created no detrimental crime in the record books. The importance in London could be measured by the fact that the Yards Flying Squad, working on robberies, was almost two hundred strong whilst the Drug Squad, that much feared, much reported, much protested against, was 27 strong. That level of commitment from the Metropolitan Police existed until the early 1980s when Mrs Thatcher decided to see if more manpower would assist. Today the National Crime Squad has Drug Wings working on the intelligence coming from the national Criminal Intelligence Service and the close co-operation with H M Customs and Excise.
So what does a police manager do? Of recent years drug possession has become a recordable crime. Create a Drug Squad, make a few hundred arrests and the crime rate goes up by a few hundred crimes. That cancels out all your community policing, all the efforts of the domestic violence unit and the general public now are aware that there is a drug problem. You see, no knowledge of drug use means little or no problem. Active policing brings it to notice and makes more demands.
This is not a new debate, merely a more openly discussed problem. We discussed it on the Drug Squad back in 1973. And we tried an experiment. We looked for an area that could be isolated and had no drug problem. We utilised New Addington, near Croydon, in South East London. A greenfield development, community centre, good community groups, regular newsletter, local police station, no drug problems, low crime rate.
We put a couple of officers in and they reported that there was a reasonably active amphetamine circulation operating, through discos, parties and that a three or four lads were making a few bob. So we hit and arrested.
Now, suddenly, New Addington had a problem. It had surfaced. The community group were worried, they demanded action from the local police, stop and search increased, the local police demanded activity from the Yard, there were articles in the local papers, and we had created the problem.
We promised much and did little, and after a while the 'problem' went away.
Practical management problems
That dilemma "drug work creates its own crime" - is faced by each and every police manager.
They couple that consideration with the potential for corruption. The history of drug policing the world over is of police corruption. I phrase it that way but you must all be aware that such a contract requires two partners. In drug policing it is not a case of whether corruption will occur, but when.
There are a variety of management measures to counter the threat and one of those is to deploy a small, trained, well led group to operate in the field. This is the route chosen by most police services . Rather than have each and every policeman looking for drug offences it is most common to have a small, dedicated team targeted at a specific level of supply. That team works on specific intelligence and attempts to create chaos in the supply chain, provide the highest level of deterrence through publicity, whilst failing to increase the crime rate by numerous arrest. Quality not quantity is the motto.
Why does police corruption occur specifically in this field. Theres plenty of money about certainly. But I have a pet theory. In each and every other crime there are three component parts. Baddie, victim and policeman. If any two get together to thwart justice then the other notices and brings it out. If baddie and victim agree the policeman looks for a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. If baddie and policeman dishonestly agree, then an annoyed victim goes to a complaints department.
But in a drug case there are only two. If baddie and policemen agree that it is to their mutual benefit, often finance to policeman and freedom to baddie, then there is no third party. That is the role police management must take in drug work.
So the police manager has the potential for creating more and more demands on his resources, its the theory of the bottomless bucket, the more you pour in the higher rate you have to pour to keep up. And drug work invites corruption. What a combination. There is a clear temptation to keep as far from drug work as possible.
But thats not all. The work demands work from the courts and the laboratories . In London in the early 1990s we had the situation where so much of the laboratorys work was drug analysis that more serious crimes could not be worked upon. It would be too easy to claim that cautioning was as a result of a sympathy with changed social acceptance, the reality lay more in the husbandry of resources.
Through it all was the continuing problem of performance measurement. Do greater seizures indicate better successes or do they indicate a runaway market indicating failure? Do numbers arrested indicate success o r the greater number breaking the existing law?
And the data was collected. Remember, we now have a generation of trained senior officers, able to research and think. And what did they discover. Not only does drug work use too many resources, work in the field ruins results, causes public anxiety and invites the threat of corruption. And then it was discovered that about half of the crime committed was drug related.
There will always be crimes committed by the individual whose lack of social commitment reinforces him or her committing crime because of drug use. OK, very little, if any, evidence of cannabis in that argument but it applies to some substances. The majority of associated crime had a link with financing drug use. The more research progressed the more the link between drug costs, specifically heroin and crack, and crime was apparent. So now we find that prohibition keeps the price of drugs up and that we have a wave of secondary victims of drug abuse, the victims of half the crime committed to pay for use.
So add that lot up together and you can appreciate why the police service, despite its traditional conservatism, is considering options including legalisation.
You will, Im sure, have noticed the absence of any elements of individual rights entering into the management debate. Police managers are pragmatic. The priorities are the three Rs resources, results and repercussions they are paramount.
Why, in this field, does 'Law and Order' fail? And in failing, why does it have such adverse effects on everyone else?
Fundamentally the British policing model is one of 'policing by consent.' It is generally accepted that each individual has the right to pursue their own interests and activities subject only to limitations when such activities cause harm to others or unacceptably weaken the very fabric of society.
With a variety of drugs such harm is difficult to quantify and we have collectively reacted by justifying the law on the grounds that the users are 'harming' themselves. Most people, me included, do not perceive the user to be committing a criminal act, ......................it is the legislation that creates the criminal act and thereby, the criminal.
If users themselves multiply sufficiently in number, and we are already at that point, then we are not policing by consent.
We are left only with this policy of prohibition that claims to deter.
But we are not deterring. By any research, the number of users, in all categories continues to grow.
The politician's third way
After the Runciman Report and the report of the Home Affairs Select Committee both identified that cannabis legislation was out of line with any dangers posed by the drug Government started to look more leniently upon users. Whilst making promises of less prioritisation in the field of cannabis possession, political expediency demanded ever more harsh punishments for the suppliers of all illegal drugs.
The irony of this divergent approach is all too obvious. The major detrimental effects of drug use on the majority of the public lie in the commission of crimes to finance use. A greater concentration of policing efforts on supply serve simply to increase the costs of drugs (reflecting market risks) and thereby increase the number of crimes committed to finance use. One sure outcome of a greater reduction of concentration on possession is to increase the number of users. No honest proponent of legalisation could possibly argue that such change of policy would not increase the numbers using any given drug.
With the current Government's indicated policy of tolerating, even a little, use but targetting supply this presents an obvious dilemma for policing. Policing is all too aware of the counter-effects of arresting suppliers. All the other crimes , by which the innocent members of the public suffer, can be attributed to raised profits by the supply chain and raised costs providing added impetus for crime.
The alleged motivation towards a lesser priority on the user is a genuine move towards 'harm minimisation' where education and health advances fight against continued use. Recent innovation in 'arrest referals' have indicated the potential benefits of moving resources from enforcement towards education and health.
......... and so, in 2002 the Home Secretary asked police to deal with cannabis possession in a less rigourous way, to reduce the priorities and consider cautions in respect of minor possession. Simultaneously he indicated that he would re-classify cannabis into a lesser classification reflecting the recent reports. He made clear that he would want police to take action if the possession or low level supply took place to minors, within the area of a school or where it challenged the authority of police. This combination caused unexpected problems for policing.
The first attempt at documenting a general UK policy came with a paper suggesting a 'three strikes and you're out' policy. The principle was that any person was entitled to two cautions for cannabis possession and, on the third occassion, they would be prosecuted. Then the practical difficulties appeared.
The documentaion of the first two 'cautions' would require some form of national records. These records must, for obvious data protection and human rights needs, be accurate. The proposed re-classification of cannabis would render the offence non-arrestable and therefore everyone 'stopped' in possession of cannabis could assume any identity. The prospect of thousands of cannabis cautions for 'Micky Mouse' was noted by the representatives of the officers, the Police Federation. They also made it clear that it would be practically impossible to take any firm action in the case of school premises possession, possession by youths and in the event of some 'micky taking' of an officer by a cannabis user.
In a response to that situation. that made it very clear that little or no thought had gone into the Government's original intentions, the Home Secretary indicated that the lower classification of possession, Class C, would be upgraded to an arrestable offence by an increase in penalties. It became clear that Government wanted a lower level of effort into cannabis but wanted to make it arrestable under the legislation. With them trying to 'have their cake and eat it' it is not surprising that the double initiative gave policing a greater problem.
The intentions of the Government were relatively clear. They wanted to initiate an acceptable level of tolerance of cannabis possession and to get the police to take that route without the U K Government having to renage or alter any of the international treaties to which we are committed. A 'third way' may be advantageous in politics but it is non-existent in policing.
The current policy situation
One of the cornerstones of British Policing is the responsibilities of the individual officer. Each officer is responsible, under law, for their own individual actions and must be able to make it clear in a court why they took, or did not take, any given action. To that extent no senior officer, certainly no politician, can give an officer any order 'not to enforce' any given legislation. Either cannabis possession is a criminal offence and the individual can be arrested, or it is not and they cannot be arrested. This is the problem placed on policing by current Government approaches.
it is further complicated by previous court guidance to senior police managers. No senior officer can make a decision 'not' to enforce any given legislation or that individual officer is liable at court for any damages caused to any person by that decision. That means that if a single Chief Officer directed his officers not to enforce the law on the prohibition of cannabis possession then the first burglary victim who could prove that the burglar was motivated by funding cannabis use or had a lower level of social responsbility caused by cannabis use could sue the Chief Officer for damages. There is a difference betwen 'not' enforcing any legislation and giving that legislation a lower priority. All managers have an option to prioritise their use of resources and this is the route being taken by current senior police officers. They cannot, however pleasantly received that may be by the politicians, give an order not to enforce existing legislation.
This is the current problem facing policing. Managers are caught between supporting, and probably approving, a reduced concentration on cannabis possession but are limited by previous court decisions and the 'constitutional' position of the individual constable. This problem will not reduce until there is a change in the legislation.
If cannabis possession remains an arrestable offence, either by no change in the current position or by a change to Class C status but a corresponding increase in Class C penalties, then it is inevitable that very different approaches will be made in different areas of the UK. Unfortunately such differing ways of dealing with individuals across the UK are in contravention of our committments to Human Rights where all should be treated equally under the law. But that is a problem for 2004 when the Government has altered the rules but left policing with outstanding problems that can only be solved by changed legislation.
In the current year police are trying to co-operate across the country by moving towards more and more cautions in the case of cannabis. In the case of more serious drugs the referal schemes are spreading across the UK limited only by the lack of resources common to unplanned policy changes.
The police knowledge of drug use and the counter effects of severe policing are being more widely accepted and examined. Police efforts through local Drug Action Teams have allowed a multi-agency approach to local problems continuing the education that started many years ago.
Police have come a long way in approaches and knowedge of the 'drug problem' since the sixties ......... if only that were so of the politicians.
Copyright © 2004-2005 Eddie Ellison - Site designed and coded by InkspotMedia