How did you come to be working with the drugs issue?

I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1977, almost exactly thirty three years ago, and I’ve come across drugs in a wide variety of forms over thirty three years of policing. Towards the end of my days in the Metropolitan Police I was Chief Inspector of Operations at Notting Hill in West London where drugs were a particular issue. So I’ve gone back a long way professionally. I arrived in Humberside in 2005 as Chief Constable of Humberside and had a job of work to do in Humberside to do with issues around performance but got a grip of that over the ensuing time. And it was actually in June 2006 that there was a vacancy…the previous Chair of the ACPO Drugs Committee, a man called Andy Hayman who was Assistant Commissioner at the Met, at that stage got involved in counter-terrorism, and subsequently retired. There was a vacancy on ACPO Drugs. I know about drugs. I find it professionally interesting and I feel I’ve got some useful experience to bring to the debate. So I actually took on the leadership of the ACPO Drugs Committee back then, back in 2006.

Is it a rewarding area of policing to work in?

It varies. It can be rewarding because actually there’s no doubt that drugs underpin a great deal of things that involve the police. That’s ranging from anti-social behaviour, where you can have an inner city estate, maybe a young single parent trying to raise a family decently, but actually there’s drugs paraphernalia outside the premises, outside the home, or perhaps even worse someone selling drugs from a nearby flat…and that has happened…then clearly that’s detrimental to how they feel about their own community. And there are issues, good research by South Yorkshire Police about the impact that visible drug use has in undermining public confidence in their own feeling of safety within their community. So that’s the sort of thing at one level, and an important level because that’s what people see and witness, but there’s a higher level issue for the police professionally which is about targeting serious organised crime and people who are dealing in drugs, deliberately dealing…and of course that’s become more complex recently with the use of the internet to actually sell and identify ‘legal highs’ which is a new challenge on the horizon. So it’s interesting because it affects everything from local communities and how they feel and anti-social behaviour right up into serious criminality where actually serious organised criminals are making big sums of money on the back of the illicit drugs market.

Have you got to see communities change during your time as a police officer?

Yes it varies. There’s two debates. I think there are things…and for me one point I would make is that I welcome the government’s review of the drugs strategy. We have the novelty of a coalition government bringing I think in my experience some fresh thinking. Now I’ve looked at drugs strategies not just in the UK but overseas and in America. And drugs strategies inevitably have what I call three or four strands. There’s one pillar, which is to do with education and prevention, and how do you influence the choices…and that’s a crucial word…what choices do people, and young people, make about what drugs to take. And now we can combine with that legal drugs. Alcohol and tobacco and prescription drugs. So people make choices what they take. So that’s the prevention and education wing which is not the matter for the police. Police have an interest in it but actually its not our lead responsibility. The middle one is the enforcement ‘leg’ and that crucially is a responsibility for the police but also other enforcement agencies. UK Border Agency. HM Revenue & Customs. And that of course sits within the framework, the legal framework the government put in place. So they articulate what is and what is not legal etcetera and we operate within that framework. The final vital one which I think is substantially being reviewed at the minute by the government is what I call the treatment and rehabilitation wing and I think there’s some fresh thinking apparent at the minute…I don’t know exactly how it will manifest itself because that will come out when the consultation period is finished. But I think that’s another crucial bit, about how effectively do people help…and this is predominantly a public health issue…how do you support people to get off drugs when they make that choice…and get them integrated back into society as worthy citizens who are making their way so to speak. So that’s the dynamics. My interest and my experience is to do with enforcement. I have observations on the other two but it’s my key remit if that makes sense.

The consultation document associates its policy objectives with the ‘Big Society’ and lists as the very first bullet point of its vision: “greater ambition for recovery whilst ensuring crime reduction”. That has thrown up the potential transition from ‘maintenance-based’ to ‘abstinence-based’ treatment programmes, as I understand it. Is that consistent with police thinking on effective ways to deal with the drugs issue? 

That’s a hard question. Because that is predominantly an issue for public health medical professionals. And of course you’ve got the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which includes….has police officers on it but is predominantly much more scientific-based…to provide objective evidence to the Home Secretary for her, as it currently stands, to make judgements about what works. That’s the crucial thing. For police, we welcome anything that reduces the harms to our communities. There’s a debate…if a person’s being stabilised on methadone…and I understand and I follow the trade press…there are concerns about the long term effects of methadone and actually how many people die as a result of methadone. A good example very recently, and this wasn’t about treatment this was the misuse of drugs, the two young lads…there’s evidence the young lads who died recently in Scunthorpe, where there was a suspicion in the early stage it could be mephedrone, actually the evidence at the minute from the toxicologists report is that it appears to be linked to alcohol and methadone. But of course the actual final cause of death is a matter for the coroner’s inquest. But its come out that actually alcohol and methadone, there’s evidence of that there. So the question about, well, what are the public health issues for that? Is methadone a suitable long term solution or do we want to get into abstinence and get people back to work, a healthier lifestyle and all the rest? Those are debates not for police – I mean we have an interest if they’re successful and the result is a reduction in crime because actually people aren’t now breaking the law on illicit drugs and there’s lower demand for dealers to tap into, and actually safer communities because the paraphernalia of drugs is less apparent…well clearly we would welcome that. But we’re not in a position to judge whether its successful or not. We’re the police, we deal with enforcement. Its for others to make judgements as to the long term public health solutions and outcomes they’re seeking to achieve.

I spoke to Fiona Measham for an hour and it was the one issue on which she became quite animated, from a policing or crime point of view. Her thinking as a criminologist is that addiction is a chronic relapsing condition and she envisaged an increase in crime if you tried to enforce an abstinence-based approach, which she thought would be unrealistic. She took very much the opposite view to the one that you’ve taken. Can you tell me, is this abstinence-based approach…is that where things seem to be going?

Well I would query…you say she took the opposite view. I don’t think she did. She was describing what may be a by-product of that choice. There are people who’ve said well…this is why I welcome a mature debate. It would be very easy for me as a police officer to say ‘well it’ll increase crime’. There are some police people at the minute who are saying if you reduce police budgets you increase crime. If there’s unemployment we have more crime. So I have to say I’m not convinced by that debate. Where’s the hard evidence? And it needs to be actually looking at individuals, what are the choices they make, what they do. So I would simply flag up a note of caution about the simplistic assumption that if you have an abstinence-based approach it’s going to drive people to criminality. There’s some big issues and I’m sure those will be considered by the government because when they start talking about a link between benefits and those on drugs, well that’s clearly a decision for the politicians. Be absolutely clear, one of the outcomes they are seeking to achieve…

You take no view on that?

I mean I have a concern. But it would be entirely wrong…if you quote me as saying ‘police chief says crime will go up if you take benefits’ it would not be fair. No. I’d like to see what is the evidence for it? I can understand at one level a simplistic link. Now some people will use that because politically they don’t like the concept and its a very easy one to throw up and it gets the public headlines because the media, back into the polarised debate, will be straight into ‘we’re gonna have an increase in crime’. That’s what my plea to you is: don’t go down that path. Because actually we need a really well-informed debate and some clear thinking about what are the actual outcomes that do happen. And look elsewhere. There’s the European context to look at, which needs to be researched.

Portugal.

Portugal’s the current one. And of course on that you hear different views from different schools of thought as to which bit of evidence and what sort of experience they start…what anecdotes they give back to you about what the outcomes are. My plea is for a well-informed and mature debate about what actually does happen, what does work, and what is the long term solutions you’re trying to get. Does that makes sense?

I think so. But nevertheless…do you have any concerns whatsoever that drugs policy would start to utilise the benefits’ system?

Erm. Do I have any concerns at all? I have a generic concern of anything that may increase crime. Because that’s increasing victimisations, increasing problems in society. You need to go back in time but there was a point where we had heroin prescription. And actually, anecdotally, the suggestion is that the numbers involved maintained on heroin were actually a lot smaller than they are now. And those are the debates…the thing I’ve learned about drugs in this last five years it is not a simple answer. If it was a simple solution we would have found it by now. Legalisation…alcohol is a legal drug. Do we have any problems in our communities as a consequence of alcohol abuse? Discuss. You tell me. I know what my experience tells me. Nicotine is a legal drug… So I’m not arguing that all drugs should be legal…I’m not saying that at all…what I am saying, we need a well-balanced, well-informed debate about what harm is being caused to society and how you mitigate those, reduce those. You’re not going to eradicate them. And at the minute it seems to me much more emotive about ‘legal/illegal’ and enforcement than it is about the wider debate about how you get the education/prevention right and what works with treatment.

The focus on benefits…is that something which is part of the fresh thinking? Are we moving towards a decision on that?

[Holds up hands] I’m police. I’m police.

I promise you I’m about to move on. It’s partly because I’m writing this for the Big Issue and it goes with the constituency.

Yeah, I appreciate that.

Is that one of the things which is really on the table at the moment?

That is what I understand. That’s been announced in the media [?] and I understand that’s part of the overarching consultation. It’s not to do with enforcement so it’s not specifically something in which I take a view if that makes sense.

How did you view the David Nutt affair and what does it say about the drug debate?

It’s now history. I think it was regrettable. Both the chair of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs has moved on, and the Home Secretary’s changed. And I thought it was regrettable. I’m not going to comment, I’m not in a position to comment on the rights and wrongs. I just felt it was regrettable for the public because it was a bit of a distraction from an important debate.

It showed up the sensitivities of the debate and what a sensitive debate it is in this country. And how very educated very responsible people can become embroiled in a row which is slightly beneath them, though I might have phrased that better. But with respect to comparing harm between horse riding and cannabis, and people being fired and so on, it shows that there are things that you can’t say, I suppose.

Well I think you just have to be careful what language you use. It was a brief moment in time on the overarching school of things. The personalities have moved on. I think it was regrettable because it actually distracted from an important debate. That’s behind us now, obviously, and I’m pleased that the relationship is on a more stable footing.

With respect to harm, it seems that the progressive forces in the debate are attempting to move it to the centre [in respect of classification].

Yeah, and that’s been going for some time. You will know. In my time there’s been various learned treatises published by people commenting about drugs overarching. And I think that debate is gathering momentum, which is when I come back to what I said earlier. I welcome the government review because its a timely review to have, and its the government who make decisions with regard legislation. Where you legislate things and where you actually take a slightly different and a more nuanced approach to try and reduce the long term harms, if that makes sense.

How has ACPO’s thinking on drugs policing evolved in the last few years in your experience?

Erm, do police care about drugs? Yes we do, for the reasons I articulate. And every police chief in this country has been a cop on the street at different times, so we’ve all come across drugs in a multitude of sins. I never use and always avoid the language ‘The War on Drugs’. And I am occasionally mildly irritated – and feel free to use that phrase – I get mildly irritated when people say ‘Oh do you think we’ve lost the war on drugs?’ I say look, I’ve been policing for thirty three years. We’ve been reporting burglaries for thirty three years. No one suggests we’ve lost the war on burglary or suggests we stop reporting…investigating. Its part of the dynamic of policing. We recognise that. It’s more complex because of the scale of the thing. I think what we have seen is that the numbers of drugs available, and the types of drugs of drugs have changed in recent years particularly now on the back of the legal highs. The use of the internet. People deliberately now manufacturing drugs which are chemically legal and yet actually being sold pretty cynically to people who often aren’t quite sure what they’re taking, and that’s another dynamic, so I think that is a new dynamic to policing that we’ve all witnessed and of course have got some apprehension over.

I mentioned the ‘Big Society’. A further ambition listed in the consultation document is for the devolution and simplification of budget streams [with respect to enforcement]. Within the frame of the drug debate are there areas in which ACPO could suggest how these ambitions can be met?

I would hesitate to do that because there are better minds than I to apply to it. One of the problems frankly, and the tensions I observe, and this is a personal observation by a citizen rather than just as a police chief…is one of the problems you’ve got is because the different elements of the drugs strategy, from prevention, education, through enforcement into treatment and rehabilitation, scans a number of government departments. And wherever you’ve got things that fall across between departments, there’s questions about the degree of co-ordination. And of course put bluntly, and your readers will know this, on the whole the public are not very sympathetic towards people who are perceived as choosing to take illicit drugs. And suffering personally, financially, health-wise as a result of that. So I think there is an added complexity in terms of how the public view prioritisation, particularly when budgets are tight, and when you’re getting into issues about health, and emotive issues about cancer treatment, about breast cancer, about the whole host of things that the public would have a view on, then actually trying to take additional money out of budgets in order to treat people who’ve made choices in their lives about drugs…you and I both know is a very emotive issue. A challenging issue and a political issue. Because then you have to make judgements about how you actually divvy up the cash and where does the money go? Those are very important debates and so I wouldn’t pretend to have the answers. Greater minds than I have got to make those judgements.

Would decriminalisation save money?

I don’t know. Simple as that. I don’t know and it’s not an issue that’s on the horizon.

How much of a strain do drugs put on policing?

Well firstly its very hard to categorise because we don’t deal with drugs separate to things. I’ve already indicated one of the professional interests for me as a police chief, as a police officer, and that’s why I do the job, and also one of the challenges for the police is actually how complex the drugs issue is. So I’ve already indicated at local level we have places in Humberside, but no more or less than elsewhere, some places where visible drugs markets, the paraphernalia and the dangers from that. You often hear, not just here in Humberside this is stuff in the national press, you know drugs paraphernalia in childrens’ playgrounds where people are choosing to dump. And very irresponsible, and this is why when you talk about the public, how sympathetic are they to the perception of people who take drugs are grossly irresponsible and will leave drugs paraphernalia openly lying around, will take drugs openly…you ain’t gonna win any sympathy from the public if that’s the way you conduct yourself. I know that’s the minority but I just say that’s part of the perception of drugs. So at lower level there’s a demand but of course it’s embedded within our neighbourhood policing. And then into partnership work. ‘Cos a lot of this work is to do with, and you’ll know people who’ve got drugs problems have frequently got other problems…health, education, housing. And that’s why the work between the local police, through our neighbourhood policing and the local authority and other agencies, and the charitable agencies as well, is crucial for us and we invest a lot of time and energy into that. What I can’t do is quantify ‘X’ percent of a budget is caused by drugs because these are complex issues. When you go up the scale into serious organised crime, we have a major crime unit here in Humberside. Most forces have major crime units. A lot of their time will be spent tackling and targeting serious organised criminals who are making money through drugs. So again there’s another level of activity there and a lot of work cross border, now. Either from police forces within Yorkshire/ Humber, before Yorkshire/Humber forces, which is just under ten percent of British policing, a lot of resources, but we have a regional crime capability now, and when they’re targeting serious organised crime at that level then inevitably drugs will feature. The final one, I know from the work we’ve done in recent years, you’ve talked about changes in police demand…cannabis cultivation. Cannabis factories. Well we’ve invested a lot of time and energy in recent years as a drugs committee, drawing together the intel…information on that, we’ve got a much clearer understanding now about that network and what’s going on, identifying links between local cannabis factories and organised crime. About whose responsibility etcetera. So that’s an area where the police service invested time and effort to build up the bigger overarching picture. And linking internationally. That’s the interesting thing about drugs. It manifests itself locally but it works at force level in the region, cross border, across international boundaries. And obviously ther are cannabis factories in Europe, not just in the UK and information exchange across police forces internationally as well.

Is that due to implementation of the National Intelligence Model?

Only to a modest degree. That’s the framework that we use to do it, we’ve got regional intelligence units now who exchange information.

I help out at an allotment near me and the police are always dropping off what they’ve found when they’ve raided a cannabis factory.

Yeah. Compost! Ha ha!

It seems to be happening a lot.

Oh yeah. And we know. And we know, we’ve done national assessments, very recently published, openly for the public just to say this is the picture that’s emerging. So when you come in…do drugs impact on policing? Absolutely. Because they impact on local communities and policing’s about protecting the public. It’s very hard for anybody to say well that percent of our budget is spent on drugs because it’s so interconnected with everything else we do, if that makes sense.

How much of the work the police do with respect to drugs might be categorised as inefficient? Or could you suggest where efficiencies could be found?

There will be areas. Particularly now with the budgets getting tighter. One of the problems of course is that it depends how you define efficiency. Now I’ve been challenged, not just here in Humberside, ‘Oh the police have lost the war on drugs…’ ‘You arrest one street dealer and another one will come along. So you’re wasting your time and effort.’ Well that’s a moot point. I don’t disagree with the analysis, that actually you remove one dealer, another will come along. That may be. But actually there are things, back to what I said…our responsibility is to protect our local communities. And actually if you’re a single parent trying to bring up a kid, and you’ve got open drug dealing out in the streets where the kids go out to play. You may have a drug dealer in the flat next to you, with a whole load of people coming at all times of the day and night. Are you seriously telling us that we shouldn’t be focussing and targeting that as well? Albeit we know that if we close that drugs den then another one mat cop up somewhere else. We recognise that’s a risk, but we reserve the right to take local activity in order to try and suppress and protect vulnerable people, the local community, and to tackle to problems locally. We recognise closing one drugs flat where someone’s knocking out drugs and getting them to move somewhere else does not solve the problem, but it does solve the problem for the people who happen to be living next door to it, and that’s something we take very seriously.

It kind of leads on to the next question, which arose again from the consultation document in the section relating to law enforcement. The first question there for consultation is: “When does drug use become problematic?”

Well it depends what you’re asking. If you’re asking me as a police officer when you’ve got a disorganised person who actually chooses to commit crime to feed their habit, is the short answer for us. That’s why you’re back into this much more ‘problematic for who?’. We’ve met, my team have met, with the parents of people who’ve taken cannabis. Well frankly they’ve got a problem as soon as a young person in the household starts taking cannabis. Now it may be that they’re buying the cannabis quite legitimately, if they’ve got a job. So it rather depends how you frame your question. At what point does it become a problem? It depends who you’re talking to. If you’re talking to parents it’s when the kids start taking drugs. If you’re talking to the police, it’s actually when people either commit crime to fund the drugs, because that can be massively problematic, and of course then there’s the illegal drugs markets that come up in terms of the supply of the drugs.

Why do you think the government asked that question in the section regarding law enforcement? It would seem that there’s the notion of the potential for some debate – specifically with respect to law enforcement. Whereas you gave quite a straightforward answer. How do you interpret the question ‘When does drug use become problematic?’ Why is the government asking it?

The answer is if you want to find that out, ask them. And I’m not sure there’s very much point speculating. I’d be very interested to see what they come out with with in their findings, so to speak. Then again, that’s why I welcome the review. I think they’re genuinely trying to ask quite complex – as is coming out from our conversation – some quite complex issues here, which do rarely lend themselves to simple solutions. That’s the trouble. So I think that we’re actually trying to get people to give a more clear articulation about how do they view the problem and what would they see as problematic. Interesting the review, it was the Joseph Roundtree Foundation with South Yorkshire police did some work in Sheffield a few years ago and they’re the ones who did indentify, which was interesting for us professionally, did identify that a group of kids sitting on a wall drinking cans of lager will have a different impact and send out a different message to the locals than a group of kids sitting on a wall smoking cannabis. And it was interesting that acutally local people would feel more threatened by because cannabis is illegal it was a visible very obvious breaking the law made them feel more uneasy about their community and saw it as more significant and more sinister in a way than kids drinking lager, which they may have been a bit underage but that’s one of the dilemmas. We’ve all drunk a bit of alcohol when we’re underage, it’s part of the rites of passage. Didn’t make us criminals.

A lot of people would say that that’s an inversion of the harm scale, that alcohol potentially does a lot more harm to people who use it or abuse it, and tends to lead to more harm to others around them. It tends to incur more violent situations. You said recently to the Observer that alcohol and nicotine should be brought further into the drug debate and I wonder how you think that might happen?

No I was really repeating what others have said well before me very publicly. If you actually look across the board at what are the harms there, and I’ve said, I’ve said throughout my service the single most harmful drug in this country is alcohol. And the sheer scale of things in terms of you look at the issues from a policing perspective – and we put a lot of resources into the night time economy, we have much later drinking now – and issues around assaults, issues around domestic violence, issues around simply young people drinking themselves into oblivion and being a great risk on the streets. So that is not new, that is not a new statement. That’s our experience simply being described over many years. What we’re now seeing it’s becoming more complex because we’re now getting…there is an increasing trend for poly-drug use. In other words as I’ve already indicated in Scunthorpe people are taking alcohol, as a legal drug, and sometimes, you know, drinking before they go out because its cheaper to buy it from the off-license before they go clubbing, and then of course getting involved in taking other drugs – illicit, prescription, licit – when they’re out and about, to stimulate or whatever, and to be part of the atmosphere and the dancing or whatever. Of course in public health terms they’re at great risk, when you start mixing drugs, as we’re seeing. Now the police remit is if they’re taking illegal drugs. Illicit drugs which are banned by law. So that’s where we look at and that’s where we come in. There is an issue and the phrase I use you alluded to earlier…I was asked what are the police priorities when the budgets are getting tighter? And what I said is that we would be inclined to focus upon serious organised crime and drug dealing. The police service would not be seeking to criminalise young people. Why I said that was not to say it should be decriminalised, but that actually I’m not persuaded that arresting a sixteen, seventeen year old, eighteen year old and putting him before the local magistrates court for the simple possession of a joint of cannabis, I’m not persuaded on the evidence that that actually does address the issue. Is there evidence to suggest that’s a solution? Some people would say that. There are some big journalists who would argue ‘Arrest everybody, complete zero tolerance, put everyone before the court and we’ll solve the drug problem. Well that’s interesting. It’s not my experience. Intuitively, that’s not the solution. So that was the language I was using when we come to the police when we come into how the police use their resources, and what we do pragmatically to actually police the streets, if that makes sense.

Do the police miss the days before extended licensing laws when they knew where they were at chucking out time?

Er, well that’s a new debate of course and the service has always said and said at the time if you go to 24 hour drinking, I mean we used to be able to say many years ago when I joined the job, you know, the pubs would close at eleven, you knew what time last drinks were at, you knew what time the last bus left town, because a lot of people relied on public transport thirty years ago, and you knew by about midnight the town or city centre was pretty quiet because everywhere was dead. They’d gone home. Well if you’ve got 24 hour drinking and you’ve got establishments opening at three or four o clock still letting people out then the night time economy is an additional demand on police resources. That’s well articulated, the service has been the same for some time. And that’s I think all partly round the review boundary or how do people is that got the benefits we were expecting or are there things we need to address. How our town and city centre’s feel when you’ve got that 24 hour economy.

What’s your personal view?

Well, a) we have a different ACPO lead for alcohol, because the problems are slightly different. I think most of us feel the same. We would welcome a review. Because I’ve often said if you’ve got a licensing premises with a problem you’ve probably got a problem licensee. So there’s questions about the quality of the licenses and how well managed they are, and these are issues of course for the local authority when it comes to the licensing. The police have a view, as do local people. And inevitably you get some controversy locally, the local media, if somebody wants to open up a new outlet and the local residents don’t want it because it’s going to have an impact on how they feel about their community, and the police may have a view about how well run it will be and the problems associated with it. Because we deal, I said before, we deal with all the fallout from this out on the streets. I mean rather ironically they’ll have bouncers on the door so people who are going to misbehave don’t get in, and if people do misbehave inside they get thrown out onto the street. Well we patrol the public spaces of the street, so there is a dynamic here between how well the licensing’s being managed and how well run are establishments and actually what happens out on the streets. As happens of course to our colleagues in the health service. The paramedics. Our heart goes out to them sometimes. The resources they invest in people who choose to drink to excess or whatever of course that has an impact on our public spaces.

What’s the current provision for the rehabilitation of drug offenders?

Absolutely no idea. And this is precisely my point. What we do support is actually sensible ideas to help people get off drugs. Because our experience simply to put someone before the court is the rotating door. Does it address their health problems? No it doesn’t. Does it give them a criminal record? Potentially yes. Does a criminal record potentially damage their career prospects? Almost certainly. So this is where you get into what are the wider harms here. We fully support the drug intervention programme, funded by the Home Office, though the funding there is coming under pressure I imagine. We’ll know about that later.

This is DTTOs [Drug Treatment & Testing Orders]. Arrest referral.

Yes. So it’s the drug intervention when if people are in police custody cells, when they’re brought in doing some initial drug testing, and also being able to refer to people who can offer the drug treatment. Now, we think that works. We’re very much in support of that. Because it’s the police often who actually have to mop up – literally and metaphorically sometimes – the outcome of what goes on. So actually, and in the same way we welcome drying out centres for alcoholics and for people who are drunk in the street. But we don’t want to seem them imposed on the Health Service and in Casualty. Do we want to arrest people for being drunk and incapable? Well actually we take the risk then because we get people into our cells who actually may be suffering from alcohol poisoning. But again…would we support health provision, whereby you can have people taken somewhere to have proper health support? Yes we would broadly. But again they’re very few and far between because there’s no votes in it. There’s no money in it. So do we support treatment? Yes. Because we think that gives you longer term solutions. And the evidence is actually people, health professionals, drug treatment referrals within police stations…that’s part of our experience of many years, and that’s what we fully support. What actually works, and how effective and cost effective…those are the decisions for the health professionals and those involved professionally in treating people addicted to drugs, of any kind, and  ultimately these are political decisions for the government and how it prioritises where it invests its public money.

You’re in favour of them but you say you don’t know whether they actually work or not.

Well our experience is, and it’s limited, it’s not scientific, our experience is it’s a better option because what have we got otherwise? We either give them cautions if it’s lower level stuff and we carry the risk if they’re arrested. Or we put them before the magistrates court. Now I’m persuaded that there are cases where people do need…if you’ve got people who are prolifically using drugs, even for lower level possession, and are clearly prolific offenders then it may well be that they need the shake up and to be put before the courts because clearly they’re not paying heed, and we reserve the right. And if they’re causing disproportionate concerns in our communities that’s a legitimate step. But that’s not necessarily the vast majority. An awful lot, as you know, a lot of your readers, people who go through a phase of testing out, trying out drugs, that’s part of the youth experience, part of the youth scene in many respects. And I’m not convinced that putting these people before the courts is the solution to that particular problem, if that makes sense.

You can be referred without being charged with a crime, can’t you? Are there any human rights [civil liberties] issues connected with that as far as you’re concerned?

No. I mean not that I’m aware of. I think most people in my experience would actually prefer to have those referrals and be dealt with that way. Providing the arrest is legitimate, and that’s the only stress on the police, that’s the prime area, to take someone’s liberty from them is a pretty draconian task. So inevitably there are human rights issues about their right to liberty. But if the arrest is done on lawful grounds, as it should be, then actually having that as an option, where you can refer people out, seems to be a very sensible way. And actually I think provides a better long term service than putting them before the courts.

Do you think the criminal justice system could be doing anything differently in that area?

Yes, and it already is in some areas. What I do support, and actually I think is a welcome innovation, are the Drug Courts, and interestingly there was a good radio programme on this the other day. And I’ve seen this work in America. Where the police do…we reserve the right to enforce the law. And quite right, we should be doing that. And we will focus our eye on the bigger harms, and drug dealing crime and criminality. But actually, the Drug Courts, which brings together not just the judiciary but also health professionals and advice as well to actually get people off. These are still limited pilot sites. The challenge is, as the courts’ budgets come under pressure, are they going to be able to expand that facility more locally, and the only two I know are down in London at the minute…more locally, so you’ve got Drugs Courts which is much more inclined towards getting people to treatment, getting off the drug. With the threat of, the potential threat of incarceration, presumably, if you don’t get your act together. But their preference is that people should make better choices, take the advice and support that’s there and actually get off drugs for the long term. That would seem to me a very welcome innovation because it does give a more clear way out of that than putting people in prison.

Is it the right policy to target what’s known as PDUs – Problem Drug Users – seemingly at the cost of targeting drug users in general? Some groups have argued that there isn’t sufficient targeting of resources towards drugs other than heroin and crack cocaine. In terms of education, also.  

Credit where credit’s due I think the Home Office ‘Frank’ website actually is very good. I’ve looked at it myself on occasions, it’s a very easy reference point. So in terms of making information available about what are the potential harms to allow people to make better choices is sound. And that’s not restricted to one drug, that’s actually quite comprehensive and actually updated regularly, so I think that’s very worthy. You repeated a problem I indentified some time ago. When resources are tight how do people under the different departments make prioritisations and make judgements about where they invest. Because as you rightly say it’s a potentially huge problem, and multi-faceted, because you say for real problem drug users they‘ve probably got health problems in their own right, which causes an imposition. They’ve probably got issues around employment, about housing, about you name it. So they’ve got multiple problems I guess. But I think what you’ve described in that question is merely repeating what we’ve said earlier. Resources are tight and therefore decisions have been made historically which have sent money to certain areas. And once money starts to go in there it tends to carry on flowing there, unless there’s a change of direction. That’s why I welcome the government’s refreshed look at this. Because they may need to make some choices about well where’s the money better directed?

Is it the case that our prisons are full of drugs?

Well certainly anecdotally. I mean, again, I’m police not prison service. And I’m well aware that there’s been plenty of research to indicate there is a real problem. I’m aware of that. They are aware of that. In fact on my Drugs Committee we have the police adviser from NOMS, the National Offender Management Service, because of issues and concerns round that. And of course police do have strong links with local prisons on issues around drugs. So yes I recognise what you describe.

Re-offending is a big issue for the police. Obviously, you don’t want people to re-offend…

Oh absolutely yeah. And in fairness in Hull there’s been some good work. I get on well…I chair the Criminal Justice Board in Humberside, which brings all the law enforcement agencies, criminal justice agencies. And we have a very enlightened governor in Hull Prison who’s got a post which is all to do about social integration, reintegration. And we recognise that a person leaving prison, if they’ve got a job and they’ve got somewhere to live, they’re fifty percent less likely to re-offend. You reduce the offending by fifty percent. Well that is a no-brainer. That’s the evidence base. It’s a no-brainer for me. How you do that again is an issue then for the service and for local authorities and all the rest. About how can you get someone housed, preferably away from what they’ve been doing before, and how can you get them into meaningful employment. Because if you can hit those two – that’s the wider political challenge – if you get those two right you substantially increase, decrease rather, the risk of reoffending. And that has to be worth investing time and assets to do that.

Does the criminal justice system have a drug problem?

In what regard?

I saw the inside of a police cell once and stencilled on the wall were the words ‘Had a think? Ask to speak to the Drugs Counsellor.’ I interviewed someone recently who told me her brother worked in a prison and that his job had been reduced to administering methadone to inmates in their cells. There seems to be a great ‘binding up’ of drugs and crime and I wondered if there was too much binding up of it or not enough? Is tackling drug use a key to tackling criminality or is there an undue focus on drug use in terms of its association with crime?

That’s an interesting question, and that brings us almost back to the beginning of the conversation about the review of the overarching drugs strategy and the point you were making about the anecdote you were saying there about someone just handing out methadone, well that’s one of the criticisms. And I think that’s what the government are now looking at, is abstinence a better outcome to achieve than simply maintaining something somebody on it? So as I said I welcome drugs courts, because it seems to be a bit more innovative, a broader approach, and that’s why I welcome drug intervention programmes in police custody, because the solution simply isn’t…the judicial system doesn’t give you those long term solutions.

Do you think there’s a culture of discrimination against drug users within the police?

The police, you’ve got to remember, is very much a street culture. When you join the police, we all join as street cops and you patrol. You deal with the streets. And actually, there’s no shame, I often say a lot of policing is first impressions. Because actually you arrive at an incident or you come across an incident or you respond to a call for assistance, and as you arrive you immediately want to know what is the nature of…what’s happening here, what is the nature of it, is there a risk to the public, because we’re here to protect life and protect the public. A physical risk. Is there a risk to the officers themselves? Because sometimes the officers can end up in quite physically challenging situations, so in terms of the police perspective the police do, and I think we would always reserve the right to stereotype to a modest degree. Now all I would say, when I joined the police service I think that was very common, and when you see the famous film Life On Mars, the TV programme, there’s an awful lot of assumptions there about, and categorising of society in a very simplistic fashion, which was actually quite unfair. I think the service I have been proud to serve now for thirty three years is hugely more professional, better trained, better informed as to the complexity of what we’re dealing with, and much more able to discriminate, to identify now the nuancing of what we see. There is still an element in which when you arrive you’ve got to make an initial first impressions, what have you got? So yes I do accept the point you made, there’ll be an element of truth, it’d be perverse to deny it. There are some who see ‘druggies’ as a problem and that would be a disorganised person without employment, probably not necessarily in somewhere safe to live, inevitably if they’ve got a significant drug habit they’re getting the money from somewhere and it’s unlikely to be legitimate. So I would acknowledge there may be an initial assumption made, but I think because of our training and actually our professionalism now we’re much more attuned to…and the solutions. Prejudice for me is, we all have opinions and preferences. For me a prejudice is when you allow your preferences to distort the way you treat people. Increasingly now we do endeavour to treat people fairly and equally, they don’t always treat us in the same fashion but that’s a different conversation. And it can be a little bit simplistic of necessity if you’re dealing with an incident immediately on the street. But I think the force is much more sophisticated than it was. And hence the conversations we’re having now, myself as a police officer, about how we can tackle the problems more coherently, rather than simply ‘it’s an offence, it’s a crime’, we’ll nick you and put you before the courts’. That’s a bit old. We’re well beyond those days.

How dangerous is cannabis?

I’m not going to comment on that. People die from cannabis. People die from eating peanuts. And that’s the dilemma and this is why it’s such an emotive debate. And I’ve met parents of kids who’ve got involved with cannabis. Is cannabis a gateway drug? Only in the sense that most people who go on to serious drugs, or heavy drugs should we say, not serious drugs, heavy drugs, may well have started with cannabis, but the vast majority of people who take cannabis don’t…so I understand and I’ve never been persuaded otherwise…do not go on to take more dangerous drugs, they take cannabis for a period of time. I was at university in the ‘70s. Did I take drugs? Yes. What was the drug I took? Alcohol. I was a rugby player, I took prolific amounts – and yes, I did swallow.

Can that be my scoop then?

[Off the record do you remember when lots of politicians were coming out and the Home Secretary said she’d…and I was sitting there one day, we were talking about reclassification and I thought ‘this is bizarre’. I’m a rugby player, my drug of choice was alcohol, I’m talking to the Home Secretary, she says she’s taken cannabis. Quite novel. I thought it was rather a sort of surreal world…] But again, this is why as a police officer there are clearly…I often say if I went down as a street cop…I’m being very honest with you now and I would ask you to respect that and not to misquote me…if I was a street cop on the street as I was in the ‘70s with a truncheon down your truncheon pocket, no other protective kit, and I came across a group of six lads who’d been tanked up on extra strong lager, or six lads who’d been smoking cannabis, I know which group I’d rather come across. In purely personal terms. Which was more likely more volatile, more damaging frankly. But there’s no doubt that it’s clear that when some people do take cannabis it becomes actually…I think particularly the potential for psychotic incidents…tragically it’s clear that those people are at harm. The danger is we don’t know who’s who. Nor do the people taking it. And this is why I think there’s a health debate, an education debate, but when I’ve met parents of people who’ve taken cannabis and have had tragic lives as a result, completely destroying families almost, then my heart goes out to them and I could not therefore regard cannabis as a safe drug. No drug is safe. That includes alcohol. That includes tobacco. We see the consequences of what happens when it goes wrong. As well of course the public, the young kids, this is one of the dilemmas is that they don’t see that necessarily. Their experience is ‘not a problem for me, not a problem for my mates’. You know, and therefore all these warnings are alarmist things from adults who don’t want us to enjoy ourselves. More complex than that.

Are the ‘three step’ escalation guidelines for dealing with possession of small amounts of cannabis satisfactory?

Yeah, I mean we welcome it because it gives us that flexibility to make those judgements. We’re always being criticised for not using our discretion, not exercising common sense. Well frankly my view is that the police service has always had quite a strong inclination that way because actually we’ve been dealing with the realities out on the street twenty four hours a day, three o’ clock in the morning, all the way through. So we certainly support it. It was my committee that developed and put out the guidelines. There are issues, obviously, about how it’s enforced, and variability. But forces have to…they are only guidelines. It doesn’t direct a force what to do. It’s not our role and remit. It provides them with a common basis on which to base decisions. And we’ve always said if there is a particular area, a particular locality where the public have real problems with particular issues, then the local police will reserve the right to enforce the law more rigorously there than they might somewhere else. Those are legitimate professional judgements for the force to make in conjunction with the local community to meet the local needs.

Do you see the debate moving towards decriminalisation of cannabis?

I watch it with interest, I don’t pretend to know the answer. I’ve heard the debates over many years now and of course you’re back into what we said before, actually making judgements about what’s the nature of the drug, what are the actual harms, and how does society manage that, regulate that. Those are clearly important decisions, ultimately political. That’s why I studiously avoid…we’re there to enforce the law. The legislators make the law, informed by scientific advisors and all the rest. The police have a view. So that’s an unenviable task. The crucial thing is, hence why I welcome the debate, and a mature look at objectively what works including the international scene to allow the decision makers to make some sound decisions that people understand. Because you’ll always have quite a wide range of public opinion about how they view drugs in all their forms, be it alcohol, be it illicit drugs. So you rarely have a public consensus on it. You do need a well-informed, evidence-based approach in order to address the issues I think.

What did the mephedrone affair teach us?

Mephedrone? The lesson I think is for a more mature debate, and a less knee-jerk reaction debate.

Why was the debate not mature?

Well on the facts. Good example – Scunthorpe, there was initial evidence, and we articulated it, that there was circumstantial evidence that mephedrone was involved. That triggered, because of a moment in time, a national debate including demands – and I use that word deliberately – in the media and politically in some quarters, to have mephedrone made illegal. It duly was. As it transpired once the toxicology reports came, well, the mephedrone the circumstantial reports suggested, there was no evidence in the toxicology report. So good example there. I do give that as one of the dilemmas we have with high profile, polarised debate.

It suggests a system not working very well, led by the media.

I’ve got great sympathy for the politicians here. And for the Advisory Council for the Misuse if Drugs. Because as I said before it has changed in my service as a police officer. I mean when I was a cop heroin was around, cannabis was around, cocaine was around. Absolutely. Of course we’re now getting, as I said earlier, ‘legal highs’ the ability now for people through the internet to exchange ideas, create new drugs, get them sold and put out on to the scene very quickly. And that clearly does provide a materially different challenge for the powers-that-be, including the police. And of course, the traditional system, the processes in place, didn’t have the fleetness of foot really, which is why I think the government is now looking at do we have some way of putting a temporary ban on things while we get the evidence on what are the material harms. Welcome that, seems to be pragmatic, a sensible way forward.

Would you support an analogue law such as they have in America?

Explain.

It’s illegal in America to sell a substance which purports to mimic the effects of another, so they supposedly have less of a problem with ‘legal highs’.

Worthy to be explored. Again, that’s a decision for the Home Office. The only thing I would say is let’s not be naive about how things are marketed. Strangely enough we will come across people who will deliberately misrepresent what the item is because they want to stay outside the…so it’s not as simple as what it’s being broadcast as. The other challenge is actually knowing what’s in it because the police are very much aware about the adulteration of drugs and cutting agents being used because there’s a whole variety of reasons about why they want to be changed. So I think one of the big public health risks is why people are actually taking, are they even aware of what they’re taking. And are they making wise choices about what mix they’re taking. That’s I think the big debate to be had.

What initiatives would ACPO like to see with respect to reducing the supply of illegal drugs?

Well we’re taking a lot of initiatives already. Back to what I said before, I will not use the language of ‘war on drugs’. Why? Because actually I’ve got late teenage children now and I’ve got no desire to…I didn’t join the police service to go to war with young people. And all the evidence is drugs are used predominantly by young people, for a whole variety of reasons, and so it’s a question of actually how do we tackle serious organised criminality? Will that solve the problem? I don’t think it will. I don’t think enforcement acting alone…it can hold the line, it can reduce the risks, and it can tackle particularly harmful areas. As I said I’ve already given an indication about the advances we’ve been making about getting an understanding about the criminality behind the cannabis factories. And that was something that was out there for some time, it was very localised. As we drew the national picture we got a more clearer understanding how, and of course a better position working with Serious Organised Crime Agency, UK Border Agency and the rest to tackle and target some of the people who are making substantial sums of money out of it. So I think the service is actually well experienced because we’ve been dealing with this for a long time. But what we can do tactically in enforcement terms to target people. And we welcome things like drugs confiscation, POCA [Proceeds of Crime Act, 2002], taking substantial sums of money off…

Legislation was passed a few years ago to enable you to…

Absolutely. To enable us to do that. And we’ve had a good case very recently where huge, literally a six figure sum…

Which one?

It’s a case I just know about, I don’t know the name of the case off hand. But we’ve had cases recently where we’ve got on the back of…particularly drugs things where substantial sums of money and their materiel – houses and cars etcetera – have been taken off criminals. So those are advances which we welcome and obviously we want to more fully exploit because that really does hit the criminals hard. That’s their cache. Their cache is their pension pot. Putting a criminal to prison for dealing is an occupational hazard. Hitting the money which they’ve accumulated over a long period of time and you really do hit them where it hurts. So there are a lot of areas where we’ve made genuine progress on the enforcement front. Big debate – because this isn’t just a local market, it’s a global market. South America, cocaine. Afghanistan, heroin. And that’s why one police force, one nation, can’t solve the problem. There’s a wider debate, internationally, taking place now as to how can we actually tackle it in a coherent fashion.

At the beginning of the interview you said that there are some fresh ideas. Could you tell me any more?

Well it’s nothing very radical. It’s just a willingness to have a more open, mature debate, to look in an equal fashion, what are the harms here, what’s the dynamic going on here, what are the longer term solutions? Rather than simply having an ‘is it illegal, is it not illegal’ debate. That’s what I welcome.

Is the classification system satisfactory?

I’m not sure people understand it fully. I don’t think it influences the choices young people make, and I speak as a parent of three kids. So it was helpful for a period of time but that’s another…and I’ve said it might make sense…there might be a time…and that’s an issue for the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs to advise the Home Office on. Is there a more simple or clearer way of actually using it? Because I think people are concerned what’s in the different categories and what does it actually mean? The question for me is what influences the choices young people make out on the streets, and what is it that influences their thinking in terms of education and prevention and I’m not persuaded that the categorisation system is high in their thinking.

Whose are the decisive voices in the drug debate?

Well I’ve described it. You’re back into, sorry to be boring… When you look at what to do to prevent people, or better educate, if there are a group of people there who have good experience and good professional backgrounds to draw upon, education etcetera and things around young people. You then move into enforcement. Enforcement is not just the police, it’s the government who decide what is legal and what is not legal. And in my thirty three years we’ve gone from things that have been legalised, on a whole range of things, which was actually not drugs I’m talking about now. Homosexuality. You were a criminal at one point. I often say that’s one of the big changes for me. There was a time when if you were homosexual you were put into prison. I now send police officers in police uniform on gay pride parades. Quite right. And that for me is a very good sign of the way in which the police service has changed hugely in my service. So in terms of enforcement we have views, we have professional experience to bring to the party. But I’m not so arrogant as to suggest we’ve got the solutions. We have an important part of the contribution to make on enforcement. There’s other agencies involved. Then of course you get into the public health debate about treatment and rehabilitation. And I respect that’s for the health professionals, not for the police.

I mentioned the affair with David Nutt. It seems that drugs is one area of public policy where the powers-that-be can get their knickers in a twist. It suggests that there is a difficult relationship between the government and the ACMD. It’s a difficult area.

Well I said earlier it’s not for me to comment. I observe it because I’m interested in it. And as I said there are colleagues, police officers, on the ACMD. I think it’s an important relationship if the government are to make sound evidence-based decisions about the long term reduction of harm.

Do the government and the police tend to be in line in their thinking on drugs?

Well, we vary. We have professional lines and then we have very mature individual views as I say.

Where are the differences? You produce reports at ACPO. You make proposals.

Oh yeah. I mean all ACPO does is to provide the framework. As I say I don’t have any executive power. The forty three forces of England and Wales, they enforce the law appropriately, professionally, and actually I like to think in tune with the local dynamics if that makes sense. So we don’t dictate that. We merely articulate what the framework is and offer advice and…I wouldn’t want to get into, because it is so complex, I mean we work very closely with the Home Office because we’re police. The Home Office fund the police and therefore inevitably we have quite a close working relationship with key players in the Home Office who are developing the strategy. Those conversations are ongoing as we speak. Ultimately they make their decisions, their political decisions are made by the government, and then obviously we look at what the implications are for policing and feed that back out to the forty three forces if that makes sense.

Okay I think that’s everything. My final question was ‘do you think we’re losing the war on drugs?’ but I don’t think you’d dignify it.

Ha ha! As a simple one, it sounds trite but I joined the police service ‘cos I actually want to make a difference. And that’s what I’ve endeavoured to do at different levels throughout my time. The people I work with, and I can only talk about the lads and lasses who work for police in Humberside, we’re really proud of trying to…we’re there to deliver a service to our communities. It’s very complex because we deal with counter-terrorism to serious organised crime right down to local stuff about how people feel about their street, and then we’re even expected to arbitrate between warring neighbours on occasions, or even warring partners in domestic violence. It’s quite complex. Whatever happens on drugs we will always strive to address problems locally, to support local people, particularly the vulnerable ones. And actually I hope at national level to contribute to a well informed debate and a dispassionate debate about actually how we tackle…because we do see the down side of the world as well as the plus. We deal with some very nasty people and criminals, and some very tragic people in some cases where their lives have completely come unstuck, as well as the vast majority of the law abiding public who get nowhere near. They don’t see that. They don’t see the reality that we see as police. They read about it and they see it on the telly, and they worry about it sometimes, they don’t necessarily see it in the same way as the police. So I think as a police officer one is privileged to observe society at pretty close quarters, warts and all. Professionally we just endeavour to do a good job, we’ll always do that, like back to what I was saying before. We’ve been tackling crime for a hundred and seventy four years, we ain’t gonna stop tackling crime in all its forms with varying degrees of success. What we do endeavour is to learn from our mistakes and do as professionally good a job as we can.

What does the new model in Portugal tell us?

I’m aware of that. I’ve heard about it anecdotally. Back to what I said before. We’re police. We’re interested. But actually we’re waiting for the Home Office, they’re the ones looking very closely at what the experience is to give us views on that count, if you see what I mean. We’re here to enforce the law in the UK as it currently stands, albeit we’re interested if there’s any changes.

Finally, what areas do you think there will be movement on?

My guess is that it’s going to be on the treatment and rehabilitation side. That’s not new. That’s just looking at what I’ve read in the press.

The abstinence-based approach.

Yeah, I think that’s the most note… I mean there’s not a lot new on drugs. You can review the drugs strategy, I’ve looked at them internationally, and they are broadly the same. So there’s nothing massively new it’s a question of emphasis and prioritisation. And certainly just picking up the vibes from the newspapers in advance of the coalition government coming in, that seemed to be the area in which they’re looking if that makes sense.

Would you be optimistic for Britain’s drug users?

Yeah, I’m a glass half full man, not a glass half empty, so I’m eternally optimistic.