One of South Yorkshire’s most senior police officers has criticised the courts for landing drug addicts with fines when the end up in the dock – instead of sentences to help with rehabilitation.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts said by the time offenders reached the stage where they got to court, those involved in crime through their substance abuse habits would already have been offered support by police and other authorities.
But often, the courts imposed cash fines on them, rather than imposing sentences with a “degree of compulsion” to help them change their lifestyles.
The rise of the use of the synthetic drug ‘spice’ has made city centre abuse problems much more visible because the effect is to knock out those who use it, leaving abusers slumped in the streets.
Police have responded by taking action, along with other public sector bodies, to try to help, though some of those involved inevitably end up before the courts and police have seen at that point the intervention turn from help to punishment through fines.
Mr Roberts said: “This is not something we can arrest our way out of. I think we strike a really good balance with the city centre team in terms of enforcement and diversion and support.
“The council do a good job with housing and some people do choose to become homeless.
“There has to be an enforcement angle. We can cite numerous case studies where we have had to go to enforcement.
“Ultimately it will end up in court and we had frustration with some of the sentences arrived at. For example, some people have received a fine.
“We would much rather a community form of punishment with support to get clean, with the degree of compulsion courts can bring.
“It is a difficult one for the courts to get their heads around. At the moment I am not sure we have got the right balance. It is an area that needs to be developed,” he said.
Sheffield’s district commander, Chief Supt Stuart Barton, said there was ongoing work for adults with complex needs, and PCSOs working in the city centre knew all the homeless community.
He said 14 out of 15 of those regarded as homeless “choose to sleep rough, with houses they could go to but they choose not to”.
Work is being planned to try to address that situation.
Mr Barton was speaking a public accountability board meeting, held by the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, to hold the police service to account.
Dr Billings said on a recent visit to Sheffield city centre, he had noticed abandoned detritus of substance abuse, such as needles, on a greater scale than he had seen previously in the area around Sheffield Cathedral.