Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)


  1.1  The introduction of the ten-year strategy has provided a time-framed agenda with a life-span which acknowledges that government understands the tackling of the drugs problem as being a long-term investment of multi-agency and cross government departmental effort. The ACPO also welcomes the role of an Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator as it is felt that such a role offers the strategic overview and facilitative function, which is so important in channelling the energy of each partner towards the aims of the strategy. In short, the framework provided by the strategy, driven by government, its Co-ordinator and all the partners is fully endorsed by the ACPO and seen as a sensible and pragmatic approach.

  1.2  Three years on, it is our view that the main thrust of the strategy remains appropriate and relevant but there is a pressing need to refine some aspects.


  2.1  If we judge whether the existing drugs policy is working by measurable reductions in the number of people who use drugs, the number who die or suffer harm as a result, the supply of drugs, the amount of crime committed to get money to buy drugs and the organised criminality involved in transporting and supplying drugs, then we have to say that the results are not coming through. This could either be because the policy is flawed or because the policy is right but not enough co-ordinated effort is being put into it. The view of the ACPO is that it is the latter. The realignment of Drug Action Teams with local authority boundaries has been helpful in facilitating local partnership activity and creating a better fit with the Crime and Disorder Community Safety Agenda.

  2.2  Issues

    —  There are indications that some government departments and agencies find it difficult to maintain their commitment due to competing priorities

    —  Ideally, the extent to which drugs policy is working would be determined through the robust evaluation of activity driven by the strategy—this research is incomplete

    —  62 per cent of the United Kingdom drugs funding is spent on enforcement (Government Drugs Strategy 1998). This may represent a disproportionate distribution of resources.

  2.3  Consequences

    —  The absence of any baseline data means that the targets set in the strategy were unrealistic and are now demoralising

    —  The objectives lack credibility, which deters agencies from channelling their efforts towards targets that they know are impossible to achieve

    —  In the case of the police service, there is an additional frustration in that Home Office performance indicators do not measure outcomes and are open to manipulation

    —  The strategy sets objectives and targets which touch most departments. However, their standing when compared with other performance measures such as reducing class sizes or waiting times for medical operations means that the drugs agenda can have a lower priority

    —  Law enforcement agencies are the only agencies that have specific drugs performance indicators in addition to those contained in the strategy

    —  The imbalance in funding between prevention and enforcement could mean that public health and other social problems become neglected.

  2.4  Conclusion and Recommendations

    The review and monitoring of progress within the strategy requires urgent attention if outcomes are to be properly evaluated to establish whether drugs policy is working and the financial and other resource investment is achieving a satisfactory return.

    The relative priority of the drugs strategy compared with other government priorities needs re-stating.

    There is a need to create a more robust strategic and financial framework to achieve better joined-up working, information exchange and shared funding. This could be achieved through the setting of joint agency objectives and shared funding streams where outcomes are measured against targets set from researched baselines.


  3.1  We support—

    —  The prevention strategy that centres on DTTOs, CARATs and Arrest Referral

    —  The provision of government funding to facilitate the setting up of arrest referral schemes across the country

    —  The introduction of the National Treatment Agency (NTA).

    We do not support—

    —  The lack of current research to demonstrate the effectiveness of arrest referral and mapping of how treatment demand is being met across the country

    —  The lack of new money to fund the prevention strategy prior to the reporting of the evaluation research.

  3.2  Consequences

    —  The lack of empirical research following the national rollout could hamper further development of arrest referral.

    —  Demand continues to outstrip the availability of treatment services—a position which is likely to be compounded further following the introduction of drug testing of arrestees where research indicates the client base is likely to be increased significantly.

    —  There is inadequate service provision for offenders sentenced to less than 12 months and those on release from prison on CARAT schemes. Without housing, education and employment support they are at risk of re-offending when they return to the environment that arguably contributed to their original sentencing and drug misuse problem.

    —  Accessibility to treatment for young people and clients from ethnic minority groups remains difficult.

  3.3  Conclusion and Recommendations

  The prevention initiatives within the strategy are in danger of failing unless robust evaluations are conducted and adequate funding is directed over the short to mid term. Without empirical evidence, which demonstrates the benefits being achieved, agencies will be reluctant to direct funding. Therefore, government need to continue the funding of these initiatives at least until the publication of research findings when the evidence will be available to inform future decision making. The availability and accessibility of treatment needs urgent review by the NTA.


  4.1  The ACPO remains committed to playing a significant role in the delivery of drug education in schools and to parents and carers. Linking into Youth Offending Teams (YOTS) looks promising.


    —  The input to drugs education lacks a comprehensive and co-ordinated response by each agency and a clear division of labour.

    —  Desired outcomes are not clearly defined and where they are there is a lack of research to evaluate whether outcomes are achieved.

    —  The performance targets are unrealistic as they contradict the trends illustrated in current research.

    —  Much of the work with YOTS is reactive and directed to the upper age group of young people, which misses the opportunities to work with the young and to be proactive with vulnerable young people.

    —  There is a lack of training provision for those who work in schools, which leads to varying standards of input from non-educationalists.

  4.2  Conclusion and Recommendations

  Drug education remains a critical element of the strategy. We advocate that each agency should define its input and desired outcomes. The division of labour should reflect the expertise and knowledge of available resources of each agency. This should be evaluated.


  5.1  Generally, we are content that the drugs legislation is adequate. That said there are aspects, which we feel need bolstering to fill legislative gaps. These issues have been previously highlighted to the Home Office.

  5.2  We respect the arguments advocating the decriminalisation of cannabis (and indeed other drugs) but we are clear that we do not support the decriminalisation of cannabis. Medical experts should set out the consequences and addictive qualities of cannabis. Our concern is the impact on communities and criminal justice where the consequences are not fully known. We are firmly of the view that the status quo should be maintained especially at a time when all agencies are working hard to achieve the objectives of the strategy. Effort may be diverted to managing the shift in policy. Any administrative measures that are introduced may be seen as a workable alternative but actually could create new difficulties yet to be fully understood.

  5.3  In defending the status quo it is our contention that the lack of clarity as to what is meant by decriminalisation is compounding an already uncertain situation where the likely effects are not known. Our primary aim is to provide reassurance to the public and focus on Class "A" drugs. Whilst it could be argued that decriminalisation may enable greater focus on Class "A" drugs that does not necessarily follow as other policing problems may emerge. Certainly the experience in Holland supports that view.

  5.4  In addition to this primary argument the ACPO feels that the United Kingdom could become a magnet for drug tourists, which has the potential for community degeneration, which could be a recipe for increases in crime. It cannot be assumed that legitimate possession would not eradicate black market supplies. We feel that there is a high probability that organised crime gangs will still be able to operate in this field with the potential for increased activity with the decriminalisation of cannabis.

  5.5  Home Office research shows how effective deferred cautioning is in engaging young people into treatment and others in the criminal justice system. Whilst we would not support the view that the criminal justice system be used as a means of people accessing treatment (because what about those who do not offend) the current points of intervention do provide a window of opportunity, which would be lost in the wake of decriminalisation.

  5.6  We acknowledge the findings of the Runciman Inquiry and its recommendation to re-classify cannabis. If this finding is seen as a precursor to the broader debate on the decriminalisation, the ACPO expresses concern that firstly, too much reliance be placed on the findings of one inquiry and secondly, that reclassification is likely to erode police powers to investigate other crimes. Arguably, of equal standing is the Justice Report, "Drugs and the Law", which endorsed the status quo.

  5.7  Enforcement Activity

  The policing of middle markets is the main challenging area of the enforcement strand of the ten-year strategy.


    —  Performance targets focus on national and international activity with no targets, funding or agency responsible for regional or middle markets.

    —  It is not clear what the implications are likely to be of moving the strategic objective from "stifling availability" to "disrupting supply". This could slow down progress as agencies adjust their strategy and tactics, on the other hand a seamless transition may occur. What is not clear is whether the consequences have been planned for prior to the change.

    —  The absence of baseline data is most stark within the enforcement arena with the key target of "reducing the availability of Class `A' drugs" being impossible to measure because of the absence of baseline data.

    —  At present, most drugs dealers' assets are not successfully seized losing the opportunity to use those assets directly to support further drugs enforcement work.


    —  The national intelligence model is providing an effective intelligence base to inform operational policing.

    —  The Concerted Inter-Agency Drug Action forum has a proven track record of co-ordinating activity.

    —  The middle-markets demonstration model in the Midlands has immense potential for national implementation.

  5.8  If at any time the national position does move, either in law or in common practice, to the decriminalisation of a drug or drugs, then the nature of enforcement activity will need to be reassessed at the same time. The user of a decriminalised drug has the potential to do harm to others, eg, through disorderly conduct, putting other people at risk as a driver or user of machinery, giving drugs to minors and other vulnerable people, or committing crimes while under the influence. Any "decriminalisation" of the users would have to be backed up by a tough "re-criminalisation" of acts of drug-related behaviour that affect the safety or quality of life of non-users.


  6.1  The ACPO supports the ten-year strategy. Great strides have been made in setting the future direction. Understandably most of the effort in the early years has been to set up structures and funding streams to support the major planks of the strategy. The significant omissions have been to set performance targets that are not borne out of baseline data and are not focused on joint agency objectives. The introduction of joint performance measures and funding would go some way to encourage greater multi-agency and cross government departmental working. This will also contribute to establishing a broad research-based picture of whether the strategy is working.

  6.2  The long-term nature of the strategy cannot be overstated. The Government and agencies must keep their nerve in looking for results, as they are unlikely to be achieved in the short term. This is a test for all when so much funding and effort is being directed towards the drugs problem at a time of financial constraint and competing priorities. The lock-in of other agencies could be even further enhanced if the focus of the ten-year strategy were to be revised slightly so that it is clear to all that its objectives are very clearly the reduction of harm:

    —  to the individual user or potential user;

    —  to those whom a drugs user can harm directly; and

    —  to society in general, eg, through drugs-related criminality and terrorism.

  6.3  The decriminalisation of cannabis is a debate coming at an unhelpful time when progress must be achieved from the strategy. It has the potential to de-rail the strategy by becoming a diversion from the set objectives. To a point decriminalisation is a step in the dark and may create other problems, which would be unfortunate when all agencies are valiantly trying to achieve the drugs objectives.

  6.4  Apart from the proposed legislative changes and the other areas for further development, we remain fully supportive of the Government's current drugs policy and ten-year strategy seeing it as providing a sound strategic framework, which gives all agencies appropriate direction.

  6.5  The ACPO advocates that the review by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee is timely and should not be reporting major changes to direction but from the policing perspective focus on changes that will fill the gaps, which this paper has highlighted.

September 2001

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