'Race not a determining factor' in drug testing suspects in custody, say South Yorkshire Police following racial profiling claims

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South Yorkshire Police says ‘race is absolutely not a determining factor when drug testing a suspect in custody,’ following claims the force disproportionately tests black people.

South Yorkshire Police was one of five forces chosen nationally to receive additional funding of £32,000 from the Home Office to increase drug testing on arrest for a ‘wider range of offences, which could include domestic abuse and public order offences’.

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But a spokesperson for South Yorkshire Police (SYP) said two sets of data, which are not comparable had been used, namely the Home Office arrest data which covers arrest offences rather than people and the force’s drug testing data which is based on custody records.

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Police drug testing kit

Head of Custody, Chief Inspector Lee Dowswell said: “Race is absolutely not a determining factor when drug testing a suspect in custody.

“Certain ‘trigger’ offences, such as burglary, theft or robbery, by law result in a drugs test when someone is brought in to custody. Trigger offences are primarily those in which the offender would profit from committing the crime, potentially to fuel a drug habit. The idea is to use a positive drugs test as an intervention and break this cycle of offending. If the drugs test is positive, we have drug workers in custody who offer help and guidance immediately before referring on to long-term support agencies.”

Data released by the force, using the custody records and drug testing on arrest between 2019 and 2021 shows that on average, six per cent of those brought into custody were black.

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The percentage of black people who were drug tested is 1.6 per cent higher than the percentage of those brought into custody at 7.6 per cent.

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By comparison, the data shows that on average, the percentage of white people brought into custody over the same time period was 85.6 per cent.

The percentage of white people who were drug tested is 0.5 per cent higher than the percentage of those brought into custody at 86.1 per cent.

Data released annually by the Home Office reveals the percentage of people arrested for notifiable offences by self-defined ethnicity, showing that an average of 68.6 per cent of those arrested between 2019 and 2021 were white, while an average of 3.59 per cent were black.

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As SYP suggested, the Home Office does not release comparable data for what percentage of those arrested were subsequently drug tested.

Chf Insp Dowswell added: “More recently, we have been given additional funding to test more widely, for ‘non-trigger’ offences. In South Yorkshire, we’ve used this as an opportunity to target suspected perpetrators of Violence Against Women and Girls. An example of this would be identifying domestic violence being fuelled by recreational drug use. In these cases, the drugs test must be authorised by an Inspector to ensure it is justified, and the individual has the option to say no if they wish.

“The critical thing here is to note is that drug testing is solely used for rehabilitation purposes and sits entirely separate to the criminal justice process.”

“We very much see it as a positive in order to change and manage behaviours, break addiction habits and reduce crime in the long term.”