Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Recorded drug offences down 11%

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The ONS report makes it clear that the number of drug offences recorded by the police is heavily dependent on police activities and priorities. Changes in the number of offences are more likely to reflect changes in the policing of drug crime, rather than real changes in the number of drug offences.

Latest recorded crime figures

The latest Office for National Statistics bulletin on crime in England and Wales covers crime in the calendar year 2014 and was published on 23 April 2015.

For this post, I have decided to focus on drug offences. The number of drug offences recorded by police rose steadily between 2000/5 until 2008/9 when it peaked at 243,536. After plateauing for three years, the figure started to fall and the police recorded 178,719 drug offences in the year ending December 2014 – a decrease of 11% compared with the previous year.

drug offences 2014

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Police activity the key

The ONS report makes it clear that the numbercrime 2014 ONS front cover of drug offences recorded by the police is heavily dependent on police activities and priorities. Changes in the number of offences are more likely to reflect changes in the policing of drug crime, rather than real changes in the number of drug offences.

For example, the increases in the recording of drug offences between 2004/5 and 2008/9 coincide with a priority placed on Public Service Agreement targets. The police have also been granted extra powers over the last decade including the ability to issue a warning on the street (rather than at a police station) for possession of cannabis offences in April 2004 and the power to issue penalty notices for possession of cannabis from January 2009.

As has been the case for most of the last decade, possession of cannabis offences account for approximately two thirds of all police recorded drug offences – 66% in 2014.

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The impact of cuts

Although the ONS bulletin restricts its commentary to the way in which police activity affects the number of recorded drug offences, it is obvious that the continued cuts in the number of police officers will almost inevitably result in fewer drug offences being recorded next year.

It may be that this backdoor, de facto decriminalisation is the only way that the UK will change its stance on the legal status of cannabis

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