Back in 2019, I left Hartlepool Police Station on a short walk in uniform to a meeting in the town. It was no further than fifty metres from the station when I was confronted with the stark reality of the scourge of drugs. I found two separate young men, both laying prone in the street having overdosed on drugs. Some obvious things occur to you as a police officer in dealing with such incidents including saving life, safety, hygiene and the potential for criminal offences (mostly in that order).
With officers and staff in Hartlepool already engaged on other matters, it was left to me to remain at the scene and provide what care I could until the arrival of the incredible staff from the North East Ambulance Service. Even as a serving police officer with over 20 years’ experience, it was a reassuring sound to hear the sirens getting closer to me. In the meantime, a PCSO and then an officer arrived, and I witnessed the care and compassion they showed the members of the public who had gathered, and to the two unconscious men in the street.
I’ve been on a significant amount of drugs warrants here at Cleveland in a broader force-wide attempt to stem the tide of drug dealing and we’ve seen notable successes over the course of the last year with a huge increase in stop/search which is up by a staggering 82% on last year (to July 2021) and the numbers of crimes we’ve recorded related to drugs is up by a huge 14% on last year too.
This speaks to the hard work and proactivity of our officers and staff in responding to community concerns. I’m sure that the figures I shared above bear testament to the work we’re doing at Cleveland Police to put dealers where they belong – in prison.
The approach is not about being ‘tough’ or ‘soft’ on drugs – it’s about being ‘smart’ on drugs and the focus and pressure on dealers is vital. This is about reducing the misery caused to communities who live in areas of high drug dealing by Organised Crime Groups, but it also about reducing the harm caused to those that use illicit drugs.
Today it is International Overdose Awareness Day across the globe and it feels particularly relevant here on Teesside where we see an above average number of drug related deaths. Our focus remains on the drug dealers that cause such misery to our communities and if I can provide them with one message it is this:
We won’t knock before we come through your door and the ‘knock’ is a matter of time.
What I do not want to lose however, in the above message to dealers is the purpose of Overdose Awareness Day – an opportunity to mark the tragedy that is every death related to drugs. Those who overdosed had families and loved ones and often a traumatic background that led some of them to abuse drugs. I have sat in too many living rooms with bereaved families looking through old pictures of healthy young men and women who went on to abuse drugs and lose their lives.
We must do more with partners in health and beyond to reduce the numbers of drug related deaths using a range of strategies including diversion of addicts to a health-based approach. It also helps to try and de-stigmatise drug abuse to make it easier for addicts to seek the help they need. This makes sound economic sense and allows resources to be diverted to other important things. I’m sure we can all agree on one thing; we want fewer drug addicts and as a result, fewer deaths.
If you are a family who has lost a loved one to a drug related death, my thoughts are with you, particularly today where we do all we can to raise awareness.
Richard Lewis, Chief Constable