Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 372 - 379)



  Chairman: Gentlemen, welcome. How we are going to play this is one Member of the Committee will initiate a series of questions to one of the witnesses. If others have got comments—you have just been watching, two of the three of you—then please indicate and I will bring you in. We are going to take each of the witnesses in turn, if we may, since I think the evidence you gave is a little different or from a slightly different perspective. Can we start with Commander Paddick and Angela Watkinson.

Angela Watkinson

  372. Commander Paddick, your six month pilot scheme still has about six weeks to run, so it would be a little unfair to ask you at this stage about results, but if you could outline for us what the purpose of the scheme is and what outcome you are hoping for from it and describe how the scheme is working and how it compares with areas which are not running a pilot scheme.
  (Mr Paddick) We started the pilot because officers were concerned about dealing with cannabis informally but without having any formal policy to work within. ACPO policy has always been that the only way to deal with cannabis really is to make an arrest, which was taking officers between four and six hours to process the prisoner. The only other alternative was to turn a blind eye to it or maybe confiscate it and throw it away and officers were not confident about that. They asked me whether or not they could have a formal policy to work within. I considered that along with what the local community were saying to me. I had recently been appointed as the Borough Commander in Lambeth and what the community were saying to me was that the police were not listening to what the community were saying about the offences that caused them most concern; they were concentrating on what the police thought was important rather than what the community thought was important. Nobody in the community was saying that cannabis was important, they were saying things like hard drugs, gun crime, burglary, those were the issues they wanted the police to concentrate on. Traditionally, possession of cannabis and stop and search for possession of cannabis had been a contentious area, particularly in places like Brixton within Lambeth. Therefore, all of these things came together as a compelling argument for me to explore with the Commissioner the possibility of implementing a pilot scheme where there would be a formal policy that officers could follow where they could enforce the law on cannabis but without having to resort to arrest. We introduced a policy whereby police officers could confiscate small amounts of cannabis for personal use from individuals and issue a warning without arresting them. The officers make sure there is a witness, a witnessing officer, to the fact that they are confiscating the cannabis. They issue a formal warning to the person who has been found in possession of it, who is then allowed to go on their way.

  373. Could I ask you what that warning is? Does it constitute a deterrent or is it just a formality?
  (Mr Paddick) It is accepted ACPO and Home Office policy that for minor offences police officers may issue a formal warning.

  374. Can you tell us what that is?
  (Mr Paddick) Sure. The details of the person are recorded and the person is told by the police officer that this is against the law and they should not continue with that sort of behaviour. It is quite informal.

  375. It does not involve "if it happens again x, y, z will happen", there is no deterrent in it in that respect?
  (Mr Paddick) No, that would be fair to say. Records are only kept locally, they are not accessible either by other parts of London or other parts of the country where only a formal warning is issued on the street, as opposed to a police caution where somebody is arrested, taken to the police station, fingerprints and so forth are taken. If at that stage the person is cautioned for an offence that is kept on a nationally held database and that can be accessed by other police officers, should that person come to notice again, and it is also citable in court, whereas the formal warning that is given on the street is not citable in court at all.

  376. Do you see any link between the other crimes in the area that you are trying to deal with and cannabis use? Has there been a reduction in other crimes?

  (Mr Paddick) There has not been a reduction. Across London there have been significant increases in crime during the period of the pilot, and the increases in crime, such as street robbery, that have occurred in other parts of London where the pilot is not operating have been greater than the increases in Lambeth. We are not talking about reductions, we are talking about less of an increase. Whether that is related to the cannabis pilot or not we have yet to establish. Hopefully some indication as to the effect on other crimes will come out.

  377. Is there an element of expedience in this strategy in that cannabis use is so extensive and it uses up so much police time that that is the main motivation for not dealing with it?
  (Mr Paddick) The main motivation is I do not have enough police resources in Lambeth to enforce all the laws all of the time. I have to prioritise what my officers deal with and this gives my officers the ability to deal with cannabis in a quicker way so that they can concentrate on hard drugs, they can concentrate on street robbery and those other offences which are of most concern to the community.

  378. You do not see this as the beginning of a slippery slope, that, for example, the next thing will be that you will not enforce against burglary, you will only enforce against aggravated burglary simply because of the lack of police resources and the scale of crimes that are being committed?
  (Mr Paddick) People have said that this is going soft on cannabis but if you actually look at the results to the end of October, for example, during the pilot period we have had 301 people who have had their cannabis confiscated from them who have been formally warned under the pilot scheme compared with 217 arrests for cannabis during the same period last year. I would argue that because officers are spending less time tied up in the police station dealing with all the paperwork, people are more likely to have their cannabis confiscated now than they were before, and the figures would tend to bear that out. I would say although they do not get a criminal record for what they do, and they do not get another fine imposed upon them, they get some form of an instant fine in that they have paid five or ten pounds for their cannabis and they do not have it any more. I would say that people are more likely to have their cannabis confiscated from them as a result of the pilot than they were before and to that extent there is more enforcement of the cannabis law in Lambeth than there was before even though the penalty is less.

  379. What do you think the effects of decriminalisation would be? You might like to comment on cannabis and other drugs separately or you may feel the effect is similar in all cases, ecstasy, heroin and crack cocaine.
  (Mr Paddick) All my comments are from me personally as an operational police officer operating in one of the most difficult policing environments in the country. My priority is to tackle those crimes that cause most harm to my community. I feel that my officers should concentrate on what I call chaotic drug users, those drug users who have a habit that is out of control, where they cannot obtain money by lawful means in order to fund that drug habit and, therefore, they go out and commit crime in order to buy their drugs. They are the people, and the people who supply them with their drugs, I need to put at the top of my priority list. That is my approach to these issues.

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