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Former undercover officer warns about “war on drugs” approach

As Devon and Cornwall Police continues its war on drugs under the banner of Operation Scorpion, a former officer offers words of warning about police tactics.

Last month, Alison Hernandez, Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner, highlighted the work being undertaken by officers involved in Operation Scorpion which sees uniformed and plainclothes police, along with drug dogs, target those who use and deal drugs – whether they are class A substances like crack cocaine, heroin and cocaine or class B like cannabis.

Last June Ms Hernandez controversially suggested that cannabis should be re-categorised as a class A drug and should never be legalised.

In her blog on the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner website, she wrote: “Tackling County Lines is an enterprise we should all be involved in. Police need us to play a part in looking out for and reporting signs of county lines activity in our neighbourhoods.”

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She added: “By working together across the South West, we will disrupt the drugs market and ensure those behind this immoral trade are dealt with robustly.”

However, a partnership which examines drugs policy has questioned what they call the police’s ‘crackdown’ tactics, dismissing it as a “public relations exercise”.

The Law Enforcement Action Partnership – LEAP UK – previously criticised Ms Hernandez for her call to rate cannabis as dangerous a drug as heroin and crack cocaine, saying the idea was “dangerously off base”.

“Crackdown tactics will only serve to ‘alienate’ the public”

Nic Castle, a former undercover operative and member of LEAP UK – a United Nations accredited non-government organisation and charity which includes members of law enforcement, military and others – has said such high-profile crackdown tactics would not see the kind of results needed to reduce the dangers of drugs and only served to ‘alienate’ the public.

He told PlymouthLive: “Having spent much of my police career undercover I can attest to how using these ‘crackdown’ tactics are a regular occurrence and only really serve as a public relations exercise.

“Having left the police force over a decade ago I can say with confidence that there was no positive outcome back then, and with the same methods being used, we will barely see any real results now.

“Our current approaches and drug laws only serve to alienate members of society. Recent polling correlates with what many of us in the police already know from an anecdotal perspective, that most people understand the issue and wish to see reforms and harm reduction as opposed to enforcement, so we are in great danger of creating an abyss between areas of society and the police service.

“Societies have used drugs throughout history and the more punitive we become the greater the problem becomes as a whole.

“Targeting people with passive drug dogs and labelling drugs such as cannabis as gateway drugs only causes the issue to be pushed further underground and places consumers at a greater risk – the more police enforcement tries to restrict access the more that behaviours change, such as trying to conceal stashes in body cavities, or the practice of ‘loading up’, which means to take more in one go so as to avoid carrying drugs.”

“Tactics such as Operation Scorpion raise serious concerns”

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Mr Castle added: “There are many other nuances which invariably see a greater risk to public health and possible incidents of death. There’s a reason that the harshness of drug laws often corresponds to the rates of death, and the UK has some of the worst figures in the world and in our own history.

“I’m also dismayed by the rhetoric that we still seem to employ, such as attaching false labels to people, saying that they are violent, causing antisocial behaviour. Anyone working for the emergency services will be able to explain that violence and antisocial behaviour is comparatively low when it comes to certain drugs, such as MDMA, cannabis, whereas the same cannot be said for alcohol.

“If we’re serious about lessening societal harms then we need to allow an evidence-based discussion and allow a grown-up debate to happen. At a time when we’re having to address stigma, mental health, and trying to change our horrific figures around drug related deaths, tactics such as Operation Scorpion raise serious concerns to those of us with a great deal of experience in this sector.”

(Source: Plymouth Live)

(Images: Devon and Cornwall PCC and Police)

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