Over the past few days I have watched with interest the debate on who should be the next Labour candidate to become Elected Police Commissioner on Merseyside. Now admittedly I’ve not actually seen what they said. After all I am not a member of the Labour Party. However, I have never known a group of people who are so prepared to wash their dirty linen and arguments in public so we all know who is saying what. I get a few more snippets from people within the Labour Party whose continue membership of that faded, jaded organisation never fails to amaze me.
So, as we can all understand it the arguments take place along three main lines:
- That they attack each other and then attack other people such as the current Elected Police Commissioner who was, until recently, a distinguished member of their own Party. I have no reason to like Jane Kennedy – she wiped the floor with me when I stood against her in 1997! However, I have always respected her although I have nothing but contempt for the two people currently fighting it out to replace her.
- Attacking the police especially by claiming that the police have left certain areas of the City. It is no coincidence that the three areas where this is supposed to be happening are the heart of political rather than criminal competition. It is sad that a senior police officer has had to enter the fray to defend his staff. Let me be clear. There are no-go areas or the police on Merseyside. There may not be enough Police but there is nowhere where these brave men and women don’t go to try and defend us and our liberties.
- That the big problem is that there is not enough money. Well that is clearly true but as I discussed in a blog recently if we just got more money to do what we do now the problems will continue to grow. We need to do things differently. It’s the last of these that I want to talk about so let me jump in with both feet into the debate called ‘drugs policy!’
Ironically, I know that Jane does not support the line that I am taking although she is trying all sorts of different and innovative things!
It seems to me that there are three addictive substances which we treat very differently:
- Tobacco. We have long recognised the damage that this does to people who smoke and to people who inhale the smoke of others. Over the past 40 years the number of smokers has been reduced from over 80% of adults to less than 20%. The result is that the number of people dying from lung cancer is in decline although this is a lagging indicator because the NHS is still dealing with elderly smokers. This is a cause I emote with because my dad died of lung cancer at the age of 64. He was a heavy smoker and indirectly I suppose I was as well.
- Alcohol is without a doubt a poison. It is addictive. It leads to cirrhosis, cancers, driving and behavioural problems. As with tobacco the effects go beyond the individual and can even cause their deaths. In some ways alcohol abuse amongst the young is declining as they seek healthier lifestyles. Its people of my age who are now the secret drinkers
We control both of these addictive substances by legislation, regulation and societal controls such as a restriction on advertising. It is now impossible to advertise fags and alcohol. You can only buy it in certain amounts from a certain age. Education programmes help people realise the problems that are caused to heir health. They are taxed to reduce consumption. One can argue whether the measures go far enough but there is always a choice between people’s right to do things and the affect that they have on others.
So why do we treat the third addictive substance differently?
- We now need to look carefully at having a strong drugs policy which allows it to be legally sold, regulated and taxed just like fags and booze. There are those that will say this is wrong – we must totally abolish the use of drugs because some people take them and become dependent. That’s true now but in Countries which have looked at this intelligently the consumption of drugs is reducing. To some extent we already do this. Methadone is available on prescription and distributed through the health service. All over the Country there are needle exchanges for those who are addicts so that they don’t pick up a range of infectious diseases. If we know who is selling drugs they can be involved, just as are licencees, in recognising people with problems.
Why is this so important to the Police? Because it is estimated that drugs trading is THE major cause of crime. Many of the break ins and street abuses are related to theft to enable people to feed the habit. This leads right up to the ‘Mr Bigs’ who make vast fortunes from the illicit drugs trade. Most of the serious knife and gun crimes in the Country are drugs related. Not only is this the major crime problem but is also one of the major health problems that we face with huge pressures on this and all addictions on our health services.
Now it may be that you disagree with me on this issue. What you surely cannot disagree with is that this is a subject which must be discussed.
If we simply put more and more money into the Police without changing the cultures that lead to criminality crime will continue to grow. We need more money now to catch those who are beyond hope and to protect all decent people who just want to live a quiet life in a safe society. In the medium to long term we need to talk about the reasons that people commit crime and deal with those social determinants. So much needs to be done but it won’t be done without having serious and adult conversations about the issues.
We will shortly be choosing our own candidate for the Police commissioner election although we don’t believe that Elected Police Commissioners should exist. I am absolutely sure that whoever we choose will face up the realities and deal with the issues in an intelligent and thoughtful way.