Police Revolt Over 'Soft' Drugs Policy

Police Revolt Over 'Soft' Drugs Policy
Posted by CN Staff on July 07, 2002 at 22:18:40 PT
By Tom Baldwin, Richard Ford and Stewart Tendler
Source: Times UK
Concessions over new drug laws and police reforms will be announced this week as the Government battles to shore up its crime-fighting credentials. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is to announce further safeguards against the political control of chief constables when the Police Bill begins its final passage through the Commons this week. These are expected to include a key concession giving police authorities the power to amend or reject Home Office action plans imposed on failing constabularies. 
Chief constables are alarmed that proposed new powers, allowing the Home Secretary to remove senior officers, will undermine the tradition dating back more than 160 years that police are independent of political control. On Wednesday, when Mr Blunkett will effectively decriminalise personal use of cannabis, he is also expected to promise that the maximum sentences for dealers of the drug will be doubled from five to ten years. This is intended to reassure critics, who include senior figures in the police and the Cabinet, who fear that the reclassification of cannabis as a class C drug is sending out the wrong message. Although the police will be able only to hand penalty tickets to most people caught in possession of small amounts of the drug, the measures may allow officers to arrest cannabis users where there are “aggravating circumstances”. Ministers are keen to avoid further clashes with the police in a week when the Government is already bracing itself for publication of evidence that it is losing the war against crime. Figures to be published by the Home Office on Friday will show that recorded crime in 2001-02 rose by 6 per cent, with increases in street robberies, violence and burglaries. In a crunch week for the Home Secretary, he will be holding final meetings with Treasury ministers over his bid for billions of pounds to spend on police, prisons and asylum. Mr Blunkett is also expected to travel to France on Friday for talks with the French Government designed to break the deadlock over the future of refugees at Sangatte, near Calais. Senior ministers including Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, and Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, are understood to have expressed private reservations about aspects of the softer approach to cannabis. Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has also told friends that, while experiments are fine, the new policy should not have been pioneered in South London. Mr Blunkett has already been forced into a series of concessions over his police reform Bill after a revolt from officers and defeats in the House of Lords. He has been been determined, however, to retain proposed new powers allowing him to remove chief officers and impose action plans on constabularies deemed to be failing. At present police authorities, with the backing of a Home Secretary, can demand that a chief constable retires on the grounds that his force is ineffective or inefficient. The new Bill includes an extra power to suspend a chief constable or his deputy or assistants where public confidence is undermined. Details of the regulations under which such intervention would happen have not been included in the Bill. The framework for such powers is set out, however, in a protocol produced by the Home Office, a copy of which has been seen by The Times. Chief constables are alarmed at the vagueness of the regulations. The document says: “The protocol sets out general principles in which suspension powers will be used. However, if the Secretary of State wants to depart from these circumstances for any reason he can do so.” A senior police commander said: “What this means is that if you don’t meet targets or adhere to certain dogmas you could be suspended.” Another said: “If this goes through, the independence of chief constables hangs by a thread of custom and goodwill.” An aide to Mr Blunkett said last night: “We want to consult chief constables about this, but if a police area is completely failing, there is a very strong argument that the Home Secretay should be able to intervene.” The concession expected to be offered this week would mean that local police authorities, including councillors and other community leaders, would be able to act as a buffer between the Home Office and the chief constable. The new laws would still mean that Mr Blunkett could suspend the chief constable without any right of appeal or independent oversight. Tim Brain, Chief Constable of Gloucestershire and head of the Chief Police Officers’ Staff Association, said he was concerned that the plans could have constitutional implications. He suggested that removing or suspending chief police officers for reasons other than misconduct could damage the independence of the force.  Source: Times, The (UK)Author: Tom Baldwin, Richard Ford and Stewart TendlerPublished: July 8, 2002Copyright: 2002 Times Newspapers LtdContact: letters Articles & Web Site:Drugs Uncovered: Observer Special To Be Doubled for Dealing in Cannabis Message on Cannabis Reform Leak Sows Policy Confusion Chief Scorns Cannabis Pilot Critics 
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Comment #2 posted by Dan B on July 09, 2002 at 07:30:43 PT
The Police Are Revolting!
Oh no! The police are revolting! What ever shall we do? How will we ever handle the revolting police in the UK? Here's a fun game to play with your local bobby there in the UK. Walk up and, as straight-faced as you can, ask "Are you revolting?" After he or she gets over his or her bewilderment at this question, explain this article to him or her and ask what he or she thinks about it (Man, this politically correct language can really be cumbersome!). And for you pollsters out there, it's a great way to conduct a survey!Seriously, if the police are having a revolt over this, that means the reforms that are coming are a good thing. Hang in there, UK. It's about your time to come . . . er . . . I mean, your time is about to come!Dan B
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Comment #1 posted by TroutMask on July 08, 2002 at 07:06:22 PT
Magic Wednesday
So it looks like Wednesday is the "Big Day" for sort-of decriminalization in the UK. The extent to which the law is changing is obviously not enough, but it's much better than nothing. More importantly, UK will now serve as the the nation "most like the US" that has partially decriminalized marijuana, lending more impetus for change in the US. Canada would be (will be) much better. The holes in the wall of ignorance are opening ever wider.-TM
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