HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Softer Line Against Cannabis Saves 1,300 Police Hours
Pubdate: Fri, 22 Mar 2002
Source: Times, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd
Author: Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


A PILOT scheme in which people caught in possession of cannabis are let off 
with a warning saved more than 1,300 hours of police time in its first six 
months, according to a report published yesterday.

The scheme also won the support of residents in Lambeth, South London, but 
the Metropolitan Police say that similar action might not work in other 

The force gave a cautious welcome to an internal study of the project, 
which had been launched in Lambeth by Commander Brian Paddick, but said 
that further work was needed to consider the impact for the rest of London.

Commander Paddick was moved temporarily this week from his post as 
Commander in Lambeth while an investigation is carried out into allegations 
by his former partner about the storage of cannabis at his home.

As police released details of the project's findings, an opinion poll found 
support for the scheme from residents in the Lambeth borough.

Officers involved in the experiment betweeen July and December 2001 issued 
450 warnings to people found with small amounts of cannabis. The 1,350 
hours saved was a result of officers not having to deal with suspects held 
in custody and prepare case files. It was the equivalent of having nearly 
two extra officers deployed in the borough.

During the pilot scheme there was a 35 per cent increase in recorded 
offences of possession and an 11 per cent rise in drug trafficking offences 
recorded by police. In adjoining boroughs recorded cannabis possession 
offences fell by 4 per cent and trafficking by 34 per cent. But the study 
said that Lambeth increased its activity in focusing on the use, possession 
and trafficking of Class A drugs.

Supporters of the project, launched by Commander Paddick, claim that 
freeing police time allows officers to focus on more serious crimes 
including tackling dealers in hard drugs such as crack cocaine and heroin. 
Opponents say that the increase in recorded offences is because drugs have 
come into the area because people know of the relaxed police policy towards 
cannabis possession.

Under the scheme officers are allowed to issue warnings for small amounts 
of cannabis for personal use. The officer confiscates cannabis and issues a 
warning enabling the officer to return to street patrol more quickly than 
if a person were arrested.

Mike Fuller, Deputy Assistant Commissioner with the Metropolitan Police, 
said that more in depth work was needed on Scotland Yard's internal report. 
He added: "No early decision is expected and wider consultation will now 
take place with 'prominent stakeholders' before any further decisions are 
made about the future of the scheme."

There had been misunderstanding about the scheme. "The public were very 
unclear about what was happening and thought drugs were being legalised and 
that wasn't the case. Officers are still seizing the cannabis,"   Mr Fuller 

A separate study by MORI, the polling organisation for the Police 
Foundation, found that 83 per cent of Lambeth residents supported the 
scheme. It said that 36 per cent supported the project outright, and that 
47 per cent gave it conditional support.

Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said: "A larger 
percentage of white residents than black or Asian residents supported the 

The figures show that it was backed by 41 per cent of white residents, 28 
per cent of black residents and 25 per cent of Asians.

The survey, conducted in November and December among 2,055 residents, found 
that 56 per cent said that they knew at least a little about the scheme, 
while 41 per cent knew nothing at all. Of the 56 per cent who knew 
something, only 38 per cent knew correctly that police would give warnings 
instead of formal cautions, 14 per cent knew that cannabis would be 
confiscated and 6 per cent incorrectly said that it had been legalised.

A national survey about the scheme earlier this year found 76 per cent of 
1,952 adults questioned approved of it.

William Saulsbury, assistant director of the Police Foundation, said: 
"There is strong evidence that a high proportion of Lambeth residents 
support the scheme as a rational approach on the part of the police." While 
recognising that it was not a magic wand for cutting serious crime or the 
use of hard drugs, "they expect, and believe, that the time saved with the 
new approach will be put to those ends," he said.
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