Teenagers caught with heroin and cocaine will avoid prosecution under new police scheme to fight county lines gangs
- Thames Valley Police, one of UK’s biggest forces, launching scheme next week
- Under-18s caught with illegal drugs will be offered treatment or education
- Aim is to wean teenagers off drugs and prevent them committing further crimes
Teenagers caught with heroin and cocaine will avoid prosecution under a new police scheme intended to fight county lines gangs and serious violence.
Thames Valley Police, one of Britain’s biggest forces, will give under-18s caught with small amounts of any illegal drug the chance to take part in education or treatment programmes instead of being prosecuted.
The aim is to wean the teenagers off drugs and prevent them from committing further crimes, in the hope that future demand on officers and the judiciary will be reduced.
Even if teenagers are caught with drugs for a second time, they will still be able to continue with the programme.
Teenagers caught with heroin and cocaine will avoid prosecution under a new police scheme intended to fight county lines gangs and serious violence (stock image)
However, children who refuse to participate, are caught with larger quantities of drugs or are suspected of supplying them face arrest and prosecution.
The ‘drugs diversion’ scheme is set to be launched next week.
It follows a pilot scheme in one of the force’s 12 boroughs in which 84 per cent of adults and teenagers caught with drugs avoided prosecution if they chose to undergo an education programme.
Around 35 of the 84 people caught with drugs completed the education programme, but only two of the people who completed the course are now drug free.
Forty-six of those who were caught but decided not to take part in the education course were not prosecuted but were warned they would not be given a second chance if they were caught again.
County lines is the term given to the phenomenon when drug gangs from big cities expand their sales to smaller towns, using violence to drive out local dealers.
The networks are known to exploite children and vulnerable people along the way.
Chief Inspector Jason Kew, who is leading the project, said that the move would give officers ‘more time’ to tackle ‘serious and organised crime’.
Thames Valley Police, one of Britain’s biggest forces, will give under-18s caught with any small amounts of any illegal drug the chance to take part in education or treatment programmes instead of being prosecuted (stock image)
He said: ‘This is a great step forward for the Drug Diversion Scheme.
‘By offering young people an opportunity to learn about the dangers of drugs as well as providing them with the support they need to make a positive change in their lives they don’t have to end up with a criminal record.
‘As a consequence, we hope this will then contribute to a reduction in drug use and the drugs market.
‘Further this also frees up valuable time for frontline officers as the person stopped will not need to attend custody.
‘Therefore, allowing officers more time to tackle serious and organised crime in our communities.’
Matthew Barber, the deputy police and crime commissioner for Thames Valley, said: ‘Our Violence Reduction Unit is seeking to make long term reductions in drug use and serious violence.
‘This drugs diversion scheme is designed to tackle the root causes of drug use amongst young people in order to prevent them reoffending.
‘Residents across Thames Valley often raise concerns about drug use in their communities.
Chief Inspector Jason Kew, who is leading the project, said that the move would give officers ‘more time’ to tackle ‘serious and organised crime’
‘This new approach will enable the police to better respond to the concerns of the public and tackle this problem.’
The move will anger critics who claim police have turned a blind eye to drug possession.
In January, police were accused of ‘effectively decriminalising cannabis’ as it emerged two thirds of users in Britain only receive ‘community resolutions’.
Officers were using the informal agreements, which do not result in a criminal record, for 50 to 70 per cent of people caught with the drug, reported the Daily Telegraph.
The resolutions are used to avoid drawing those with cannabis into the justice system and give police an alternative to formal charges, fines, cautions or warnings.
Their usage by the Metropolitan Police has risen tenfold in three years, up from 3.8 per cent in 2015/16 to 50.7 per cent of users in the first quarter of 2019/20.
Guidance from the force states the resolutions are for first-time offenders who must admit the offence – ‘no ifs, no buts’ – and agree ‘an act of reparation’.
They must also read information on ‘how cannabis can have a negative impact on your future’ or have an officer read it aloud to them or watch it on video.
David Green, of criminal justice think tank Civitas, told the Telegraph: ‘I suspect this is just a way of getting it off police books and not doing much about it.
‘If it doesn’t send a strong message of disapproval, then you are effectively decriminalising cannabis and making it likely to be used again.’
County lines networks are growing alarmingly fast. In 2015, only seven police forces reported knowledge of county lines in their area.
By November 2017 there were 720 ‘lines’ or networks known to police; by the end of last year that number had risen to more than 2,000.
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