Camden’s top cop questions role of police as war on drugs debate continues

Chief Supt Richard Tucker acting Borough Commander of Camden.

Chief Supt Richard Tucker acting Borough Commander of Camden. - Credit: Archant

One of Camden’s top police officers has weighed into the debate on the role of the police as the Home Office becomes embroiled in a bitter fight over whether illegal drug use should remain criminalised.

Acting borough commander Supt Richard Tucker described as “heartbreaking” the lives of addicts in the borough, as Camden remains one of the areas of the country hardest hit by heroin and crack cocaine addiction.

In 2011/12, Camden suffered the seventh highest number of opiate users (2,060) among communities in England for its size and demographic, and the third highest prevalence of crack cocaine users (1,860).

The same figures show Camden has the third highest rates of drug-taking via injection (840).

While wanting to be clear it was “not for the police” to decide what drug laws should be, Supt Tucker told the Ham&High: “The lives of addicts can be heartbreaking and depressing.

“We spend a significant amount of our time dealing with vulnerable people – people who are a suspect one day, a victim the next.

“We could spend all day arresting them. There’s a conversation to be had on what the police actually are.

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“About a quarter to a third of our time is spent doing what I think the public would consider is traditionally a police role.”

His comments come after one of the most comprehensive reports into drug use by the Home Office found no link between tough penalties and levels of drug use.

Published last Thursday, it provided an international comparison of different state systems used in the war on drugs, including setting up drug consumption rooms, providing free medical-grade heroin to long-term addicts, and decriminalising the possession of drugs for personal use.

The negative way the report was received by some has seen the government’s minister responsible for drugs policy, Liberal Democrat Norman Baker, resign from his post, saying there was little support for “rational-based evidence” in the Home Office.

It has left experts working on the ground in Camden also frustrated by politicians “refusing to follow the evidence”.

On the very day the Home Office published its report, Dr Dickon Bevington, a drug treatment expert based at the Anna Freud Centre in Hampstead, was named one of 50 “top health care innovators” in the UK for his work treating young people with drug addiction.

He told the Ham&High: “It’s more effective to treat people with drug addiction as patients, not criminals.

“I have a long shopping list of what we need to change, and at the top is increasing the number of staff to help addicts.

“You need to get in the heads of the people to help them, and that requires people not prescriptions.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all model, but the critical factor underlying all of it is developing the relationship between patient and health worker.

“We currently have a multi-agency system where users meet about five different people. It’s very difficult for relationships to be formed.

“But all this doesn’t mean the police don’t have a role. I would argue we need to increase penalties for those dealing to children, whose brains are still developing.

“We owe it to the people to base our approach on evidence.”

Cllr Jonathan Simpson, Camden Council’s cabinet member for community safety, admitted it was “a challenge to deliver the treatment we want with the budget we have”, but believed in a combined police and treatment approach.