Falling officer numbers ‘absolutely’ behind drop in drug seizures

Policing’s shrinking proactive capability caused the number of drug seizures conducted last year to fall by eight per cent, according to the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW).

Nov 9, 2017

Policing’s shrinking proactive capability caused the number of drug seizures conducted last year to fall by eight per cent, according to the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW). Forces seized illegal substances 132,283 times in 2016/17 compared with 143,248 the previous year. This decline mirrored an eight per cent fall in recorded drug offences – and comes at a time when officer numbers have fallen to the lowest level since 1985. Combined with figures from the Border Force, the overall number of seizures fell six per cent last year to 138,955. This represents the fifth consecutive annual fall and the lowest rate of seizures since 2004. Simon Kempton, drugs lead for the PFEW, said the drop in seizures is “absolutely connected” to the reduction in officer numbers. “Simply put, there is very little proactive work done now compared to several years ago as forces are having to prioritise responding to calls for assistance to the public,” he told Police Professional. “Chief constables have had to disband specialist units who would traditionally have dealt with offences such as drugs supply. “This means that not only do we see a reduction in seizures and subsequent convictions, but also a loss of expertise which only worsens year on year.” Drug seizures peaked at 241,473 in 2008/9 and have been in decline ever since. The number carried out by the police service has fallen 44 per cent, while officer numbers have reduced by approximately 20,000 since 2010. Last month, West Midlands Police Chief Constable Dave Thompson told the Government that rising demand and budget cuts have “curtailed” policing’s preventative capability. Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, has also warned that further workforce cuts would limit the force’s ability to be proactive. The drug figures, published by the Home Office on Thursday (November 9), show cocaine is still the most commonly seized Class A substance. Although the number of individual seizures dropped four per cent, the quantity taken in rose by almost a third to 5,516 kilograms. This was the largest amount for 14 years. The quantity of herbal cannabis seized also dropped 61 per cent, from 30,493kg to 11,861kg. However, last year’s high figure was largely due to major operations by the Border Force. Border Force seizures rose 26 per cent to 6,672 over the 12 months and took in larger quantities of all drugs than police, with 82 per cent of all cocaine and 69 per cent of the heroin. The continued decline in seizures comes as the number of drug poisoning deaths in England and Wales rose to the highest point on record last year. More than 3,740 people suffered fatal overdoses in 2016 following a two per cent increase. Although more than half of these deaths involved heroin or morphine, these figures remained relatively stable, while the threat posed by cocaine and fentanyl continued to increase. Mr Kempton said: “The reduction (in seizures) is a concern on various levels. Firstly, as stated drugs poisoning deaths are at an all-time high so there is a clear public safety issue here. “Moreover, we cannot allow those involved in the illicit drugs trade to continue unchallenged. “This trade brings with it other crimes including violence that invariably affect those most vulnerable in society and those who are innocently caught up in that violence.” The Home Office said police are now taking a smarter approach to targeting the supply of drugs. National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Drugs, Commander Simon Bray said: “Drugs continue to be an important focus for the police as they are linked to so many other criminal activities and harms. “However, as drug use has fallen, the emphasis on the more serious drug related offending, such as trafficking, has become of increasing importance. “This is reflected in police changes to stop and search which have seen an increasing emphasis on tackling violent crime and possession of knives, and less use of the tactic of ta

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