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Former police chief shares Brighton’s approach to drugs at leading international conference

- September 19, 2013

A former Brighton and Hove police commander shared his experiences of tackling drug-related crime at a leading international conference in Korea.

Retired Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett addressed the fourth International Working Group Meeting on Drug Smuggling Responses in Seoul last week.

About 50 law enforcement officials attended from across Europe, Asia and America. The delegates come together each year to share information about emerging trends and tackle the issue of international drug smuggling and markets.

Mr Bartlett said that it was a good stage to promote Brighton and Hove’s efforts to reduce drug harms and the role of International Drug Policy Consortium.

He told the audience that he and his colleagues in Brighton and Hove had changed their approach during his time as divisional commander.

The previous strategy of maximising arrests for low-level drug use and seizures of substances was failing.

The city had the unwanted title of Britain’s drug death capital and was designated as a “high crack area” by the government.

Rates of HIV infection and other blood-borne viruses were increasing as was the crime rate, notably acquisitive and violent crime.

He said that the enforcement-led approach had a limited impact on the supply chain and did nothing to reduce demand.

He and his colleagues developed an approach centred on harm reduction underpinned by a problem-solving philosophy.

It focused on treatment for drug users rather than relying purely on criminal justice sanctions.

The aim was to reduce drug users’ reliance on illicit substances and their offending rates and in the process producing better outcomes for communities and individuals alike.

Sussex Police worked in partnership with Crime Reduction Initiatives, a voluntary sector treatment provider, the National Health Service, the probation service and Brighton and Hove City Council.

They adopted a new twin-track approach as part of an operation called Op Reduction.

It involved developing an assertive outreach approach to identify, target and interact with the most active drug-addicted criminals.

Those criminals were given a choice of undergoing a sustained course of treatment or being targeted by the police for all their criminality.

Street dealers were also targeted and more recently this has been extended to organised crime networks.

Mr Bartlett told the conference that since this approach was developed in 2005 more than 550 users have been targeted and referred into treatment.

Between them they had previously been convicted of more than 21,000 crimes – an average of 40 each – costing £27.5 million.

More than 600 dealers have been arrested and charged with supplying drugs.

Offending by drug users targeted for treatment has reduced by 69 per cent and offending by dealers has fallen by 62 per cent.

Collectively those targeted by Op Reduction reduced their offending by 63 per cent compared with a 21 per cent reduction in a control group which was not targeted.

Over the same period burglary has fallen by 63 per cent, robbery by 42 per cent, vehicle crime by between 42 per cent and 49 per cent and violence by 32 per cent.

Drug-related deaths have fallen from 52 a year at their peak to 20 in 2011. Brighton and Hove is now eighth in the table of most prevalent drugs deaths rather than top.

He reiterated the point that his approach was specific to the harms being experienced in Brighton and Hove and that each area would have its own issues such as gang-related violence.

He said that as a result each area would need to develop its own harm-reduction policing strategies best suited to meeting its needs.

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