A more sophisticated approach to drugs is needed to tackle gang violence effectively

Rob Wilson, CEO

With everything else going on in politics and the world at the moment, an article in The Times entitled 'Criminal Gangs "Better Funded Than the Police"' may have passed people by. For those of us on the centre right of politics it should serve as a wake up call, an eye-opener to the evidence about what is happening on our streets now...today!

Young offenders, according to Jackie Sebire, Deputy Assistant of the National Police Chiefs' Council, no longer care about the consequences of committing violent crimes because criminal gangs are better funded than the police. She points out that drug users in Bedfordshire spend almost as much on cocaine and cannabis alone as the force's £113 million budget. Not long ago the Home Affairs Select Committee also pointed to the Police being behind the criminal gangs in terms of the use of technology and other state of the art equipment.

Too many teenagers are running around with guns and knives to enforce their law on the streets, often having turned to appeal of the wealth that comes with drugs from a young age. Cocaine and heroin are flooding into the UK at record levels, the market to buy it is strong and the criminal gangs control it making huge wealth and profits. Meanwhile the crime statistics that are associated with their illicit drugs trade make for appalling reading - one doesn't just have to rely on the anecdotal surge in knife crime in London. Official statistics show that since 2014-15 murders in the 18-24 age group have rocketed by 50 per cent, cautions for children carry knives is up 58 per cent and hospital admission for assaults with sharp objects up by a third.  Hardly surprising when convictions of under-20s for Class A drug trafficking have risen by 55 per cent.

In the past my reaction would have been to simply give more money and more resources to the Police.  After all, illegal drugs are causing untold misery and doing terrible harm to families and communities across our country.  I come from the same mindset as most mainstream Conservatives, a desire to suppress drugs and crime - it was one of the reasons I was hired as the CEO of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group. the organisation wanted a sceptic, but also someone who would be open-minded and look at the evidence. The evidence is that the Police do need better resourcing to catch more criminals but will a crackdown by police stop the rise in drug crime, get on top of the criminal gangs, reduce the number of drug related deaths? 

All the evidence suggests this is unlikely. The policy of prohibition of drugs has been all Government's primary policy for over 50 years, yet drug use has risen, criminal gangs have become more organised, children have been sucked into the illicit industry in ever greater numbers and we have record numbers of people dying from drug misuse. The only conclusion is that prohibition on its own is not working and has never worked, whatever the resources that have been thrown at the problem. This isn't defeatism as some might suggest, it's the undeniable evidence. Polling research demonstrates the public have opinions on drugs far ahead of politicians - they know Government policy has been failing for a generation.

The UK needs to move on to a more sophisticated understanding and approach to drugs, as many police officers will tell testify, we can't arrest our way of the epidemic we now face. It requires Government to look at changes taking place in many countries across the world and see what might work here.  Let's look at the evidence around public health and harm reduction strategies that can integrated into tough policing of criminal gangs. Decriminalisation and legalisation are often the easy go to solutions for the left of centre, but these also have their problems and won't put a stop illegal drugs. As a country, we are desperately in need of an open and honest evidence-based debate on drugs - too many young people are dying for this not to happen soon.