Tuesday, 20 December 2016
In 1999, in a three square mile area of a major conurbation, armed violence fuelled by drug gang rivalries reached its peak. During that single year there were 270 firearms discharges, 43 gun-related injuries and 7 fatalities. Caught in the middle of this savagery, law enforcement services struggled to cope. On one occasion the local police headquarters was strafed by automatic gun fire, taking out the windows while the station commander sat at his desk. The city in question was not Chicago or Bogota, but Manchester – and the police commander in question was me. For those asked to deter and investigate the drug gangs of Manchester it was an extraordinary time, but strangely rarely a fearful one. When I patrolled the streets of Longsight, or led a firearms operation, it was exhilaration rather than apprehension that captured the emotions (but then I was a much younger man!). The estates of Manchester are a little quieter these days, thanks to programmes of civic regeneration and gang intervention, but there and throughout the world the war on drugs continues. Year by year the number of addicts grows, the complexity of the market develops, and the rewards associated with the trade grow ever more absurd (currently estimated at two trillion dollars per annum). Nations such as Mexico and Afghanistan are utterly undermined by the traders and the obscene violence they foster. The North Wales Police Commissioner’s recent call for a discussion on the legalisation of drugs follows many similar suggestions over the past couple of decades. Some ten years ago the North Wales Police Authority and Chief Constable came to a similar conclusion. In Colombia, a country which has suffered four decades of civil war fuelled by drug money, President Juan Manuel Santos has called for a global re-think on our approach. However, attitudes remain as polarised as ever. Across the other side of the globe, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines sanctions vigilante hit squads to eradicate the estimated three million addicts in the country. Following recent statements on drug policy from various quarters I have regularly been approached in the past few weeks for media statement on the local and national picture. I have declined to comment. In fact, this is a debate I have stayed out of for some time; not because I haven’t got any opinions but because expressing them is pointless. In Britain and in the nations capable of making a global difference there is no political appetite, at the level where decisions can be made, for a rational and evidence-based discussion. Critics, many of the highest academic credentials, are labelled feeble. Advisers are firmly put back in their box. The focus remains on creating law and then trying to enforce it. Meanwhile, the misery continues for hundreds of thousands of individuals across the UK: university towns are awash with MDMA, the streets are again flooded with heroin and our prisons are drowning in Spice. As it was for the police in South Manchester, the front line in the war against drugs can be an exciting place. The enemy is clear, the rules of engagement are rehearsed and with the chase comes the thrill. There is also the absolute certainty that by following this approach you will never be out of a job. So, at least for the time being I will refrain from entering the debate. Through CAIS I will continue the work of helping victims recover from the scourge of addiction and supporting them to lead more prosperous lives. At this season of goodwill, which for so many reasons seems misplaced in 2016, I hope that decision-makers can one day reflect that conversation costs nothing and that you don’t solve every problem by fighting a war. Merry Christmas. Clive Wolfendale CEO CAIS Ltd.