In the last week I have seen lots of reporting of Chief Constables who have commented that in future ‘we won’t arrest those who cultivate cannabis’ or alternatively, ‘ we may not turn up at burglaries’.
Dealing with each issue in turn, I am beginning to feel like a dinosaur when I say that cultivating and using cannabis remains an offence which should concern us.
Modern cannabis is about three times stronger than varieties which were around 15 years ago and the active ingredient increases the chances of causing long- term psychological effects.
Ask any healthcare professional and they will tell you this has been proven in tests.
If you also take into account it is a chosen drug of abuse for adolescents then it becomes a genuine issue for both the police and society.
In a similar vein, suggestions that the police may no longer respond to reports of burglary have provoked lots of comment, because for those who have been victims it is a traumatic experience and something which will never be forgotten.
In South Yorkshire we treat burglary as a serious matter and for that reason there are no plans to change the way we respond to scenes of break-ins.
So, have Chief Constables really begun to go soft on drugs and burglary in the last week?
No, not really, this is simply a response to the budget cuts we face which are liable to mean the police and other public services losing a quarter of their funding over the next few years.
This means we have no alternative but to look closely at the sorts of work we become involved in so that scarce resources are sent to the most urgent incidents.
Personally, I think a better place to start managing demands on the police is where we are requested to undertake work which isn’t part of police duties.
Examples are police officers acting as a ‘taxi service’ to bring home youngsters who are regularly reported missing from children’s homes, or alternatively, police officers being asked to go and find patients who leave hospital without completing their treatment at A&E departments.
Police officers are also regularly asked to find patients with mental health problems who have wandered off from hospital, despite it being explicitly a job for other agencies to carry out.
Other examples are where the police fill in for other services who do not work 24 hours a day.
We have calculated that this ties up staff for well in excess of 100,000 hours per year – or to put it another way, it is the equivalent work of about 50 staff, full time for a year.
This cannot be sustained. We need to be clear what is expected of the police by the public and what the core role should be.
I fully accept the police service is the agency of ‘last resort’, regrettably however, in the future the police service will have to start to say ‘no’ more often , but I don’t think burglary and drugs offences are the right place to begin to do it.
* David Crompton, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police