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From harm to hope: Cambridgeshire’s police and crime commissioner write on efforts to disrupt drug crime

Cambridgeshire police and crime commissioner Darryl Preston writes for the Cambridge Independent

Drug misuse costs each person in England and Wales around £350 every year. This amounts to an economic cost of £20billion per annum. The human price is far greater with many losing or destroying their lives whilst in the grip of addiction.

Police and crime commissioner Darryl Preston
Police and crime commissioner Darryl Preston

There is a close link between drug use and crime and much of my time as a serving officer was spent tackling drug-related offending. Drug abusers commit crimes to fund their drug use and criminals are often under the influence of drugs when they offend.

These crimes are intrusive like burglary and robbery and leave victims living in fear and emotional distress many years after the incident.

In other types of drug crime like county lines, vulnerable victims are drawn into exploitation, committing crimes on behalf of others to sustain drug supply chains and protect illegal profit making.

It is a sad fact that much of the serious violence on our streets is fuelled by drug crime. This damages society and impacts public safety, making a co-ordinated and robust response to drug misuse critical.

The government published its 10-year drug strategy ‘From Harm to Hope’ in 2021. It follows a two-stage review by Dame Carol Black of drugs policy in the UK looking at the illegal drugs supply into the UK and how prevention, treatment and recovery can be improved.

The strategy aims to cut crime and save lives by breaking drug supply chains, delivering a world class treatment and recovery system and achieving a generational shift in the demand for drugs.

As police and crime commissioner for Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, I have taken on a leadership role to provide oversight of the delivery of the drug strategy locally. Crime prevention and robust policing are key priorities in my Police and Crime Plan. I know how strongly the public feel about drug crime in their communities and I share the government’s commitment to tackling illegal drugs.

Mamadu Djalo, 28, of no fixed abode, and the cocaine, top, and crack cocaine he supplied
Mamadu Djalo, 28, of no fixed abode, and the cocaine, top, and crack cocaine he supplied

The priority for me is to support a partnership approach and ensure all agencies are working as collectively as they can to address the issues. This is why I hosted a visit by Dame Carole Black to the county in the summer of 2022 to initiate a partnership discussion on the strategy, and why I now chair a new countywide High Harms Board which is looking at these issues in depth with key strategic partners on a regular basis. It is an area I will continue to monitor closely to support progress.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary works relentlessly to target criminals who exploit our communities. This has brought additional arrests, disruption to county lines, seizures of weapons and the safeguarding of vulnerable people.

In the 12 months up to March 31, 2023, targeted police work to disrupt county lines and take drugs off the streets in Cambridgeshire saw officers identifying 36 per cent more drug trafficking and 34 per cent more drug possession offences.

Hypernova, the county’s largest-ever operation to tackle exploitation and illegal drugs, resulted in 31 people charged for 139 drug and human trafficking offences, the dismantling of 30 county lines and the seizure of £600,000 worth of drugs.

In June, targeted work against cannabis-growing facilities across the county saw cannabis worth more than £3m seized following 19 drugs raids. Arrests and charges were made. Even with these impressive results we are by no means complacent. Criminals are adept at evolving their tactics and officers continually monitor and respond as new threats emerge.

I know our colleagues in public health and the charity/voluntary sector work just as hard to support drug users and help them break the cycle of addiction. But treatment or enforcement by themselves are not enough. Successful recovery depends on a unified response with housing and employment part of a wider support package, and changes in the way people with addictions are treated in the criminal justice system. I am pleased to say this holistic approach is already happening locally and will continue to have a positive impact on the way we respond and solve drug harm across the county to meet the government’s expectations.

£1m of cannabis was found at two outbuildings in Shelford Bottom on September 26, 2023. Picture: Cambridgeshire Constabulary
£1m of cannabis was found at two outbuildings in Shelford Bottom on September 26, 2023. Picture: Cambridgeshire Constabulary

The good news is the county has secured additional national funding in 2022-2025 to boost adult treatment services including early ‘enhanced’ funding for Peterborough. The extra grant has primarily been invested in frontline and support staff and additional rehab places. Elsewhere, it has been used to provide specialist training.

Drug treatment and recovery services for adults and young people across Cambridgeshire are commissioned through public health. As commissioner, I contribute funding to both Cambridgeshire and Peterborough treatment services. In Cambridgeshire, this supports help for those within the justice system and in Peterborough it helps fund a high needs support worker to deliver intensive support involving more complex criminal justice cases.

Prevention and early intervention, especially for young people, is also key. This means equipping young people with the inner resilience and knowledge they need to make safe choices and halt illicit drug use in the first place. I have been talking to our colleagues in education who know our young people best to identify how we can develop this work further.

Together, we are determined to confront illicit drug use on all levels and prevent misuse from destroying more lives. This will be achieved through tougher law enforcement and the delivery of high-quality recovery treatment and prevention to keep our communities’ free of drug harm both now and in the future.

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