ONE of England’s top police officers has called for hard drugs to be legalised to wrestle power away from criminal gangs.
Durham chief constable Mike Barton claimed the war on drugs has failed and decriminalisation is now the best way forward.
The nation’s intelligence leader for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) also suggested that the NHS should supply class-A drugs such as heroin and cocaine to addicts.
However, he stressed that he was not advocating a free-for-all.
Writing in a national newspaper, he said: “Not all crime gangs raise income through selling drugs, but most of them do in my experience. So offering an alternative route of supply to users cuts off the gang’s income stream.
“If an addict were able to access drugs via the NHS or some similar organisation, then they would not have to go out and buy illegal drugs.
“Drugs should be controlled. They should not, of course, be freely available. I think addiction to anything – drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc – is not a good thing, but outright prohibition hands revenue streams to villains.”
Under Mr Barton’s direction, Durham Constabulary launched Operation Sledgehammer, a sustained campaign to “get in the faces” of organised crime gangs.
He has previously claimed to seek inspiration in the way notorious Prohibition-era mafioso Al Capone was finally brought down not for bootlegging, but for tax evasion.
The officer, who has served for nearly 34 years, said he had witnessed a worsening drug addiction problem since prohibition began in 1971 with the Misuse of Drugs Act.
He said pushers had made billions from adulterated drugs, transforming them into local folk heroes for young people.
“Decriminalising their commodity will immediately cut off their income stream and destroy their power,” he said.
“Making drugs legal would tackle the supply chain much more effectively and much more economically than we can currently manage.”
Mr Barton said that offering drugs therapeutically through the NHS and similar organisations would avoid the spread of HIV and hepatitis C among needle users.
But he underlined that he was in favour of their use in a controlled environment, rather than a “free for all”.
“I am saying that people who encourage others to take drugs by selling them are criminals, and their actions should be tackled,” he said.
“But addicts, on the other hand, need to be treated, cared for and encouraged to break the cycle of addiction. They do not need to be criminalised.”
Mr Barton was out of the force area and unavailable to comment further on his views, Durham Police said yesterday.
However the Police and Crime Commissioner for Durham Constabulary, Ron Hogg, backed the chief’s comments.
“I am delighted he has spoken out. He is a professional officer with 34 years experience and he has seen the effects of the current policy,” Mr Hogg said.
“Clearly we will enforce the law in Durham as it stands, but people like Mike Barton have to stand up and I applaud him for doing so.”
Mr Hogg, himself a former senior police officer, said he had discussed the issue many times with Mr Barton in the past.
The commissioner agreed drugs policy was not working, as it allowed criminals to make millions, with the wider public suffering as a consequence. “We do need a radical rethink,” Mr Hogg said.
Acpo said the issue was for Parliament to decide, not officers.
National policing lead on drug-related crime Chief Constable Andy Bliss said: “Recent evidence suggests that, overall, drug misuse in the UK is falling.
“However, government policy on drugs enforcement is very clear and unambiguous and our job as police officers is to enforce the law.
“Clearly, a senior colleague like Mike Barton is entitled to his views and he has added his contribution to the national debate, but it would be Acpo’s position that these are matters for Parliament to decide.”