Pubdate: Mon, 26 Nov 2007
Source: Edinburgh Evening News (UK)
Copyright: 2007 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Alan McEwen, Crime Reporter


POLICE officers will be told not to arrest people for minor drug
possession in the city centre under radical plans being considered.

People carrying "small" quantities of cocaine, heroin, Ecstasy and
other illegal substances would simply have them confiscated.

Police chiefs want to free up more time for officers to patrol
Edinburgh's busiest area rather than dealing with cases of minor possession.

Door staff at pubs and clubs would also be told not to call police
when they catch someone carrying drugs for personal use. Instead,
staff will be asked to store them in sealed containers until they
could be collected at a later date by officers.

But the proposal was attacked by politicians today who said any
relaxation of the law would create a "drug tolerance zone".

Inspector Andy Gilhooley, who has just taken charge of the central
policing team at the West End station, briefed his officers on the
proposed measures last week.

Although he stressed the move had not been implemented, he added he
supported the idea.

He said: "If someone is caught with UKP2 of a drug, is arresting that
person the best use of police time? This is something that has
happened in various UK cities and we are now looking at it. We're
looking for best working practice."

He added: "I'm interested in keeping officers on the streets rather
than having them distracted for several hours to deal with someone
caught with a small amount of drugs.

"We have a responsibility to provide a high-visibility presence.
That's one measure we're considering to see if it's worth pursuing. Is
it worth it? My personal answer is that yes, it is worth pursuing.

But one officer who attended a briefing, who asked not to be named,
said officers had concerns about the move's implications.

He said: "This would be aimed at stopping officers being tied up for
hours with drug arrests. But it leaves officers open to complaints
they have taken drugs off someone and 'where did they go?'. It's a
trapdoor for police.

"And once the word goes out that carrying drugs in the city centre
will only result in confiscation, that will have an impact."

Councillor Iain Whyte, convener of the police board, said he was
"concerned" to hear of the move.

"This is not something I have been made aware of. I would be concerned
to think that we encourage door staff to confiscate drugs when we
can't be sure where they would end up.

"I'm sure most members of the public would also be concerned about any
idea of a drug tolerance zone in the city centre. But at the same time
we do want to see more police out and about.

"I would hope the police will consult widely on this and I would like
to hear from the Chief Constable about this at our next board meeting."

But Tory councillor Joanna Mowat, who sits on the police board, gave a
"cautious welcome" to the idea.

She said: "I think this could be a pragmatic approach."

A Scottish Government spokesman maintained that cracking down on drug
possession remained official policy.
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