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Facts about the Lambeth cannabis pilot scheme
Compiled by Richard Dapp (Sept 2002)
1.1. In December 2000, before Commander Paddick took up office in Lambeth, a Brixton officer was arrested and charged with failing to deal with cannabis properly.
1.2. When Commander Paddick arrived at Lambeth he met with all his staff including the arrested officer's colleagues. They said that they would no longer turn a blind eye to cannabis and would arrest everyone they found with the drug as they did not want to be arrested and charged as their colleague had been.
Commander Paddick promised to look into a short-hand way of dealing with the drug that did not lay his officers open to arrest for failing to do their duty.
1.3. Commander Paddick discussed the idea of a 'seize and warn' scheme with colleagues, community leaders and with his line managers. It was felt that if police officers stopped, searched and arrested everyone they found with cannabis there would be serious consequences for police community relations, possibly leading to disturbances as had happened before.
1.4. Community leaders said that they wanted crack cocaine and heroin dealt with as a priority, together with shootings and street robbery. Cannabis was low on their list of priorities. They also felt many of the more spurious stop and search operations against black youth might end as a result of cannabis being down-graded amongst police priorities.
2. Consultation and Implementation
2.1. Commander Brian Paddick floated the possibility of not arresting people for cannabis on the front page of the London Evening Standard on 27 March 2001.
2.2. The Evening Standard reports on 29 March 2001 'Met Chief backs soft line on cannabis'.
2.3. Between 27 March ES story and the implementation on 2 July 2001 there was wide consultation with the local community including three community police consultative group meetings where local people could have their say.
The black female chair of the Lambeth Police Community Consultative Group publicly backed the scheme. From the start the black community made their opposition to drugs abundantly clear.
2.4. Commander Brian Paddick had no authority to implement the cannabis pilot. The decision was made by the Commissioner and by his top team of senior officers. They were presented with a dossier of facts that showed arresting people for cannabis in Lambeth was a waste of time and money resulting only in cautions, derisory fines or conditional discharges at court.
Even Mike Todd, who was sceptical, was won over by the fact that it was not worth prosecuting people based on the court results.
2.5. On the day the pilot started, 2 July 2001, an Evening Standard editorial 'Common sense on cannabis.'
3. Issues with Implementation
3.1. Under the scheme, officers are instructed that young people found with the drug must have their cannabis seized. They are automatically referred to the Youth Offender Team who offer help, advice and counselling to the parents and the young person concerned. Under the old scheme, reams of paperwork had to be completed and as a consequence officers usually turned a blind eye.
If the youth were arrested, they would only be referred to the YOT for specialist help if they were considered to be particularly at risk or they had been arrested more than once. Youngsters do not just have their cannabis taken.
3.2. There has always been a problem with drugs in Lambeth and there have always been problems with young people taking drugs in Lambeth. Head Teachers in Lambeth have not reported increases in cannabis use in schools since the pilot began.
Other evidence is only anecdotal. This may be due to increased awareness of the issue as a result of the publicity.
3.3. There is no evidence to substantiate that there has been an increase in the number of drug dealers in Lambeth. Arrests for drug dealing are only a measure of police effort, not of the number present. There have always been a large number of drug dealers in Lambeth and police have tried everything they can to remove them. Their continued presence has been highlighted by the publicity surrounding the scheme.
3.4. There is no evidence to suggest that there have been more people coming into Lambeth to buy cannabis or other drugs. Between July and December 2001, the first six months of the pilot, 44.7% of those cautioned were from outside the borough.
Since then (January to April), only 42.4% have been from outside the borough. When the ES asked DAC Mike Fuller if there were any figures to confirm his view that there was an increase in 'drugs tourism', he said there were none.
Cannabis is so freely available in other parts of London, it is more likely to be Brixton's lively night life that attracts people.
3.5. A recent MORI poll gave residents five options to express how they felt about the scheme: do not know, disapprove of the pilot, approve if serious crime comes down, approve if police spend more time on serious crime, approve unconditionally.
Only 7% of white residents disapproved, 10% of black residents disapproved and 7% of Asian residents disapproved. The poll was carried out on council estates and in other parts of Lambeth.
3.6. Far from turning a blind eye to drugs in Lambeth, police stopped and searched 2,431 people for drugs in Lambeth between January and April this year.
Over 1,000 people have been warned under the pilot scheme since it started last July until the end of April saving millions of pounds in police officer, police support staff and court time.
During the same period street robbery in Lambeth has halved, showing the largest reduction in street robbery in the whole of London. Against increases elsewhere in London, burglary offences are also falling in Lambeth.
4. Other Issues
4.1. The ONLY community leaders who, time after time, appear in the Press against the scheme are Ros Griffiths and Julie Fawcett. Their community projects are well supported by Kate Hoey MP.
4.2. In his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on Drugs Commander Paddick stressed the harm that specifically cannabis, and other drugs, can cause and recommended the Home Secretary exercise caution in reclassifying the drug. He particularly warned that reclassifying might send wrong message to people that cannabis was harmless 'which it quite clearly is not', he said.
4.3. The Met's experiment is not officially at an end but Commander Paddick has not been responsible for the day-to-day management of the pilot or for the policing of the area for over four months, prior to which there was much praise and little criticism of the scheme.
The pilot has had no 'champion' and no-one to speak to the criticisms.
In a recent 'Today' (Radio 4) programme it was reported that the Met had refused to confirm that the pilot was still running and had declined an invitation to appear on the programme to talk about the pilot.
4.4. There is no evidence of any link between cannabis use and other crime.
4.5. Hundreds of people have been arrested for possession of cannabis in Lambeth over the past five years.
4.6. Commander Paddick is incensed that anyone should suggest that he associates African or Caribbean people with drugs or that he should be biased in favour of any racial group.
4.7. The reduction in street robbery began well before 'Operation Safer Streets' peaking in October 2001, the figures have continued to fall both before and after the influx of extra traffic officers into Lambeth.
This is not just due to the time saved in police officer time.
Officers were sent a clear message that street robbery and not cannabis was the priority. Police community relations improved promoting better co-operation between witnesses and victims of street crime and the police resulting in more convictions.
4.8. The overall policing strategy in Lambeth was developed and initially implemented by Commander Paddick. His strategy continues to be followed and it is his strategy that is helping to produce the massive reductions in crime that Lambeth is now experiencing.
4.9. In the past week there have been one Radio request, one television request and two double-page newspaper articles on the pilot scheme. The Met have failed to make any comment on any of them.
5. Recent Developments
5.1. DAC Fuller now admits that the official MPS crime figures show no increase in 'drug tourism' (people from outside Lambeth coming into the Borough to buy or sell drugs).
5.2. The police have surveyed local head teachers. 7/10 secondary head teachers have replied. All say there has been no increase in drugs incidents in their schools. Some say there have been fewer. 55/60 primary school head teachers have replied. All say there have been no incidents of pupils being intoxicated.
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