Thu, 10 Jan 2019
PEOPLE caught with small amounts of illegal drugs in West Berkshire will be offered a chance to get clean instead of being arrested, under a pilot scheme being trialled in the district.
In a bid to cut down on drug-related offences Thames Valley Police is conducting a three-month trial, launched in December, which will allow people detained in possession of smaller quantities of drugs to be referred to an appointment with the local drugs service provider, instead of being arrested and taken into custody.
The force said that by providing specialist support, the cycle of re-offending and long-term demand upon the police and judicial services could be prevented.
Assistant chief constable Jason Hogg said: “There is extensive evidence to suggest links between drug use and criminality.
“This scheme is about working closely with our partners, the drug service providers in West Berkshire, to offer a tailored programme of support.
“We hope this will allow those who are offending for the first time, young people for example, an opportunity to become educated about the risks drugs pose and for those with established addictions to seek specialist treatment.
“On a long-term basis this is a move towards preventing the tragedy that too many families face of losing a loved one to a drugs-related death.”
Those in possession of larger quantities of drugs, those suspected of supplying illegal substances or those who do not engage with the specialist support will face arrest and prosecution.
West Berkshire officers and those from the force’s Stronghold team, which works to tackle organised crime, were trained about the scheme ahead of the pilot’s launch.
Mr Hogg said: “This is an exciting pilot scheme and is not a step change towards decriminalisation of drugs.
“Offenders will have one chance to take part in the scheme and if they fail to engage with it, they could find themselves in a courtroom being prosecuted if they are found in possession of drugs in the future.
“They will not be prompted to attend drugs service appointments by officers, they would have to make the decision to choose the help being offered.
“By not bringing a person in to police custody and using a diversion route, finite police resources will not be stretched further by dealing with those best-suited towards receiving help or education.
“This will enable them to focus on policing priorities, including tackling organised crime and drug-dealing in our local communities.”
Thames Valley police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld has lent his full support to the scheme with the aim of reducing of re-offending and cutting crime.
“Providing education and specialist treatment to first-time offenders has the potential to positively impact the direction of individuals’ lives and free up both police and judicial resources,” he said.
The scheme will be evaluated following the three-month pilot to assess whether it has reduced drugs-related harm and demand in West Berkshire and to ensure it is being applied fairly.
If the pilot is successful the force will look to extend throughout the Thames Valley.