Pubdate: Tue, 27 Nov 2007
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2007 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Michael Howie, Home Affairs Correspondent


POLICE have come under fierce attack from experts and politicians
after mooting the creation of a drugs tolerance zone in the centre of

An inspector responsible for policing the city centre suggested that
officers should stop arresting people caught carrying small amounts of
drugs to increase the amount of officers available to carry out street
patrols in Scotland's capital. But the proposal, raised at a meeting
of police officers and leaked to the media, has triggered a barrage of
criticism, with one expert saying it would turn the city into a "drugs

Inspector Andy Gilhooley, who has just taken charge of the central
policing team at the city's West End police station, aired the plan
with officers last week.

He said: "If someone is caught with UKP2 of a drug, is arresting the
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. 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 yes,
it is."

Encouraging door staff at clubs and pubs to stop calling the police
when they catch someone carrying drugs for personal use, and instead
confiscating the drugs and storing them for collection by officers at
a later date, was also discussed.

Lothian and Borders Police last night insisted there were no plans to
introduce such moves, pointing out that approval from David Strang,
the force's Chief Constable, and discussions with the Crown Office
would be required.

Pauline McNeill, Labour's justice spokeswoman, said that the move
"sends the wrong signal". She added: "I understand the officer's
desire to have more visibility in the streets. That's what people
want. But this isn't the way to do it." Bill Aitken, the Scottish
Tories' justice spokesman, said: "This sends a disastrous message. A
zero-tolerance approach needs to be followed or Scotland's drug
problems will get even worse."

Neil McKeganey, professor of drug misuse research at Glasgow
University, described the proposal as "extraordinary." He added: "If
one wanted to turn Edinburgh city centre into a drugs fair, this is
how to do it."

He claimed senior police officers were "too willing to divest
themselves of the responsibility of policing drugs".

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said: "The idea was raised
at an informal police briefing, where staff were encouraged to think
about ways in which we could be more sophisticated in our approach to
policing in the city centre. This was merely a discussion point, and
we have no plans to take this suggestion further. Our focus remains on
providing the highest levels of policing."
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