Examination of Witnesses (Questions 372
TUESDAY 20 NOVEMBER 2001
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 commentsyou
have just been watching, two of the three of youthen 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.
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
(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
(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.