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Half London Street Crime is Linked to Cocaine Use


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Half London street crime is linked to cocaine use

Nick Hopkins, crime correspondent

Monday November 11, 2002

The Guardian

Nearly half of all London street crime is committed by offenders addicted to cocaine or apparently dependent on the drug, a study has found.

The finding confirms some of the worst fears of senior Metropolitan police officers, who will use the evidence to support significant changes to the force's drugs strategy, due to be launched on November 20.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mike Fuller, head of the Met's drugs directorate, will announce the force intends to put much greater emphasis on getting offenders into treatment programmes.

Mr Fuller said that 48% of people arrested for street crime had a significant cocaine dependency or addiction.

"This has been quite a revelation for us. We didn't think it was as high as that," he said. Experience had shown that imprisoning offenders "does not solve the problem".

He added: "Some people have said this is a soft option, but I don't agree. Our motivation is that they are prolific offenders, who will continue to commit crime while they are drug dependent. The benefit for us is crime reduction."

At the moment, the Met refers 4,500 people a year for drug treatment. Mr Fuller believes this is "still quite low". He hopes to double the figure in the long term if the services are available.

Other changes in strategy will include:

· Restricting the role of the police in drugs education at schools. Though officers will still speak to pupils, Mr Fuller concedes they are "not medical experts and not teachers", and should not have the responsibility of addressing classes on their own.

· A push to seize assets from mid-tier drug dealers, rather than just those at the top. Mr Fuller accepts that the Met could have a bigger impact on dealers who "cock a snook" at the law.

· A direct appeal to the consciences of class A drug users, possibly through a poster campaign. "Users don't appreciate the problems they create for the community," he said. "We can focus on suppliers, but we also need to arrest users."

Though the strategy focuses on class A drugs, the Met has made it clear that the reclassification of cannabis, due next year, will not lead to a total relaxation in attitude toward the drug.

Mr Fuller said he had been approached by two organisations considering opening cannabis "cafes" in the capital.

"They have been told in no uncertain terms that they will be closed down," he said.

The cocaine finding came from a pilot project in Hackney, launched last year, in which people arrested were given a swab drugs test.

The Met would like to extend swab testing across London, but cannot do this without government support.

Mr Fuller gave warning that the crack-cocaine problem now extended into white middle class areas, and was spreading out of inner cities to provincial towns.

"This is a great problem," he said. "We've got people using both heroin and crack cocaine - the classic situation where one brings you up and the other brings you down."

Mr Fuller is also seeking government support for tackling drug couriers bringing cocaine into Britain from the Caribbean.

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