Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why UK drug policy is 'persecuting' drug users and increasing alienation among Blacks and Asians

"...Despite the increased investment in treatment, the majority of government spending on responding to illegal drugs is still devoted to enforcing drug laws. It is however difficult to estimate government expenditure on drug policy, as it is not transparently reported. From the available data, we calculate that in the UK, as in other nations, enforcement expenditure (including police, courts and prisons) accounts for most of the total expenditure on drug policy..."

A report launched by LSE and Release today (22nd August 2013), shows that drug policing is dominating stop and search, that much of this activity is focused on low level drug possession offences, and that black and Asian people are being disproportionately targeted. "...An analysis of UK Drug Policy..." Peter Reuter and Alex Stephens. 2008. 

Niamh Eastwood, Executive Director of Release and co-author of the report, states “...this research shows that stop and search is not about finding guns or knives but about the police going out and actively looking for people who are in possession of a small amount of drugs, mainly cannabis...".

This is a truly worrying statistic, it is alarming and disgusting at the same time. It proves once and for all that policing in our country has become primarily an issue of determinable statistics; policing is now so heavily politicised, that the Government insists on demanding measurable metrics, by which to judge whether their policies are effective or not. The Home Office presumes that statistics such as these show that the police are doing their job effectively.

What they don't realise is that, in reality, these statistics manage to prove that Government law enforcement policies are a virtual complete failure because the vast majority of police time is spent looking for small amounts of drugs, in the possession of people who have them for their personal use, while the vast percentage of real recidivist crime, theft, robbery, theft of and from motor vehicles, and burglary in particular, goes virtually undetected!

What it means is that the police are not looking to prevent crime as a whole, but just to get a quick statistic, a cynical practice which is undermining the whole purpose of British-style policing.

This is proving that the original purpose of uniformed street policing as foreseen by Sir Robert Peel and implemented by the first Commissioners, has been wholly subverted by a bizarre political demand for meaningless statistics.

Proper policing cannot be measured and it is pointless (and dangerous) to try. There is no metric that can measure or value the worth of the visible presence of the uniformed constable on the street, walking the beat and interacting with the public in the community, and keeping the Queen's Peace.

The sense of public safety and community well-being that the very presence of the uniformed constable walking on the High Street, talking to passers-by, engaging with shop-keepers, or joking with stall holders instils in the mind of the law-abiding public is tangible and real, but it cannot be measured. Yet it is the fundamental purpose for beat policing.

The only problem for a modern Government is that it cannot be measured, and in today's society, if it can't be measured, it doesn't exist!

The original function of police was to prevent crime. That was why they were given certain powers to stop and search persons and vehicles. These were general powers which the police had to be able to justify using when they were applied. They were very specific 'crime-preventative' powers.

Providing a power to stop and search individuals under the Misuse of Drugs legislation has a different function altogether, and was aimed at legitimating the act of stopping the person and facilitating the arrest of offenders. They cannot be claimed to be used to prevent crime, because the crime has already been committed. However, it was never intended that the powers to search would ever be used in this way.

Examine the figures.

Over 50% of stop and searches made on the street are for drugs, 10% are for offensive weapons and less than 1% are for guns .

The police in England and Wales stop and search someone for drugs every 58 seconds.
These are not proper stops made to assist in keeping the peace and preventing crime. These are 'line of least resistance' stops designed solely to keep the figures up to keep the Home Office happy!

Of the more than half million stop and searches for drugs carried out in 2009/10 only 7% resulted in arrest. This statistic alone demonstrates the 'scatter gun' approach being adopted by police in their stop and search policies. It proves that the individual officer rarely has a genuine sense of a real 'cause to suspect', and is just exercising his powers randomly and without reason.

So why do I assert that these random stops are increasing alienation among black and Asian people. Well, the facts speak for themselves.

In 2009/10 there were 10 stop and searches for drugs for every 1,000 people in England and Wales. 

Black people were stopped and searched for drugs at 6.3 times the rate of white people, while Asian people were stopped and searched for drugs at 2.5 times the rate and those identifying as mixed race were stopped and searched for drugs at twice the rate of white people. This is despite the fact that drug use is lower amongst  black and Asian people when compared to their white counterparts .Black people are arrested for a drugs offence at 6 times the rate of white people, and Asian people are arrested at almost twice the rate of the white.

Black people are more likely to receive a harsher police response for possession of drugs .
In 2009/10 78% of black people caught in possession of cocaine by the Metropolitan Police were charged for this offence and only 22% received cautions.

In comparison 44% of white people were charged for the same offence and 56% received cautions.

Black people caught in possession of cannabis by the Metropolitan Police are less likely to receive a cannabis warning than white people, and are charged at 5 times the rate of whites.
Prosecutions for drug possession are at an all-time high and this is primarily being driven by cannabis possession.

In 2010, the Crown Prosecution Service brought more prosecutions for possession of drugs than in any other year since the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 - 43,406 people were found guilty of drug possession. 60% of these prosecutions were for cannabis.

Black people are subject to court proceedings for drug possession offences at 4.5 times the rate of whites, are found guilty of this offence at 4.5 times the rate, and are subject to immediate custody at 5 times the rate of white people.  

Once they have been taken to court black people are less likely to be given a suspended prison sentence for drug offences than white people.

Is it any wonder that black people feel, (as it turns out, statistically correctly), that they are subject to a far greater degree of police attention for something which is nothing more than a personal life-style choice, albeit illegal!

Every year approximately 80,000 people in England and Wales are convicted or cautioned for possession of drugs.  In the 15 year period, 1996 to 2011, 1.2 million criminal records have been generated as a result of drug possession laws.  

In the light of these statistics, let us just ask ourselves how it is the Government can go on futilely seeking to persuade itself that 'The War on Drugs' is working? Can you imagine the cost involved in persecuting (yes I have used that word deliberately) 80,000 people for nothing more than the possession of a small amount of a naturally-growing plant which happens to provide them with some small degree of personal pleasure, and which is entirely harmless to others.

This is why the organisation that I chair in the UK, (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition UK, a global organisation of former police officers and law enforcers), is so determined that this is a policy which has got to be rescinded and taken off the statute books. This is a piece of  legislative intervention whose time has run out and it must be reformed.

Of even more importance, the police must be directed to stop this random stop and search practice, if the aim is merely to find small amounts of drugs for personal use. Police officers have a discretion as to how they exercise their many powers, ( I rarely. if ever engaged in randomly stopping members of the public to find small quantities of marijuana)! There are many more useful things tat the police could be doing with their time, regardless of the Home Office's ridiculous statistics chase!

Michael Shiner, co-author of the report and a senior lecturer in the department of social policy at the London School of Economics said: “It’s shocking that police officers are spending so much time targeting minor drug offences, rather than focusing on more serious matters. This is not the result of a carefully considered strategy, but is the unintended consequence of reforms that have created a perverse incentive structure, rewarding officers for going after easy pickings rather than doing good police work. While it is hard to see any benefits in terms of tackling serious crime or promoting public safety, there are real costs, including unnecessary infringements on people’s liberty, discrimination against minorities and loss of trust and confidence in the police.“

Ms Eastwood goes on to say: “Black people are more likely to get a criminal record than white people, are more likely to be taken to court and are more likely to be fined or imprisoned for drug offences because of the way in which they are policed, rather than because they are more likely to use drugs. Despite calls for police reform of stop and search little has changed in the last 3 decades, this is why the Government needs to take action and change the law.  

Decriminalisation of drug possession offences would end the needless stop and search of hundreds of thousands of innocent people every year and eliminate a significant source of discrimination with all its damaging consequences.”


Stoned Review Team said...

A well researched and passionate article! We hope as many people read this as possible so the public are truly aware what is going on.

Stoned Review Team

Big Bill said...

The banks want the drugs trade to continue, they love it as it's an all-cash business which assists their liquidity. All that hot money sloshing around in their systems means they can make loads more profit!

ed chocolate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ed chocolate said...

Well worth checking out to see that even the cops think Prohibition has failed....
Also worth looking here
if you wonder why they even thought of prohibiting such a valuable commodity such as cannabis or hemp....

The Scythian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angus said...

Hi Rowan - I have referenced you here in this article on the Labour Party and cannabis policing.

'Is The Whole Problem Really the Blacks?'

it's also up on the NORML UK blog now

I sincerely hope I have presented your views correctly. If not, then let me know and I will make any changes asap.

like a lot of people I'd be really interested to read more from you on how the cannabis issue looks from the side of the police

all best,


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