'We can't arrest our way out of this' - Police chief's frustration at lack of support to tackle drugs problem
Norfolk's police chief has expressed his frustration at a "never-ending cycle" of drug gangs coming into the county and said: "we can't arrest our way" out of the problem.
The force has been focused on disrupting Class A drug gangs coming into Norfolk from out of county ever since late 2016 under Operation Gravity.
The catalyst for the operation came with the murder of drug user Steve Stannard at the hands of London dealer Hassiem Baqir, alongside a spate of violent incidents involving knives across the county.
Almost 650 arrests have been made during the 19-month life of the operation, but Chief Constable Simon Bailey said not enough was being done by councils and public services to help stifle the variety of problems associated with drugs.
“Every day we are doing our best to tackle the threat,” he said. “But there is an element of frustration with this. More needs to be done, and it needs to be done quicker.
“It can’t simply be a case of arresting our way out of it. We are at the front line of this but there has to be a broader approach.”
Mr Bailey said more resources needed to be diverted to tackle homelessness and to support vulnerable children in care, so there were fewer opportunities for people to become caught up in the world of drugs.
“My concern is we will end up with more people being violently assaulted and more people being addicted to controlled drugs, with all the crime associated with that,” he said.
“It has to be about a joined up approach where everybody commits resources, from housing to public health and tackling the homelessness problem.
“It is so easy to point the finger at the police service. However, a response purely based upon seeking to arrest offenders is not the answer.
“We have to look at how to engage those people who are currently already addicted to drugs and there has got to be assisted treatment in place for them.
“We have got to tirelessly work on tackling the homelessness issue - there is a number of the homeless community involved in purchasing drugs from county lines suppliers.
“We have got to look at youth engagement so young people feel there are alternatives to hanging out on street corners and potentially being exploited.
“We know from our research those children who are in care or living within chaotic homes are more likely to be victims.”
With rising levels of complex crimes to investigate and ongoing efficiency savings being made, Mr Bailey added tackling county lines was “having a disproportionate impact on competing demands coming into the constabulary”.
He said: “If we are to truly tackle the threat it can’t be purely around the constabulary and the hard work which has been going on every day with my staff - who get frustrated with the fact they keep arresting more and more people but the cycle is never-ending.”
A Norfolk County Council spokesman said they were taking “wide ranging action” to support young people who are victims of county lines drug dealing.
“This includes the creation of a new multi-agency criminal exploitation team to work with these vulnerable people, bringing together staff from the Youth Offending Team, social workers and partners across agencies,” they said. “Our Public Health team also works jointly with criminal justice and health services to reduce drug misuse.
“Staff have been trained to identify and understand the risks of this kind of exploitation and we are planning additional work to raise awareness among our foster carers and residential care staff.”
Vicki Markiewicz, executive director of Change, Grow, Live Norfolk, said they are trying to make their drug rehabilitation services as “accessible as possible”. The service has been running for two months and seen 118 new service users - 50 for opiate addiction.
“Once you get someone through the door we can start to work with them to deliver psychosocial intervention,” she said.
“The drug using population has been there for a number of years. If you look at the age profile, these people did not start last week or last year - they are older people.
“What has become more acute is the public purse has been tightening and the associated services that support people in the community have been removed. We are all working quite hard together to respond to this problem.”
“Reduction in public services”
Norwich City Council has said it is seeking to tackle homelessness through its new rough sleeping strategy, with hopes it will help people to engage with support services, including drug rehabilitation.
This year councils will also pay £1.5m to a new group called Pathways led by charity St Martins Housing Trust to provide a new outreach service and joined up approach to rough sleeping.
Councillor Kevin Maguire, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for rough sleeping said: “Like many city centres, Norwich is facing increased levels of rough sleeping and, at times, anti-social behaviour due to drug and alcohol misuse, which is partly a result of the reduction in public services and the impact of welfare reform.
“The council is tackling rough sleeping in partnership with a range of organisations. This includes working closely with the police to address issues associated with rough sleeping and encouraging individuals to engage with the support available to them.”