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The 2021 drugs plan sets out to break drug supply chains
What does the 2021 drugs plan say about tackling crime?

Break the supply chain

In my summary of the government’s new 10 year drugs plan on Tuesday I promised a short series of posts looking into the detail of the new strategy. Today’s post looks at what the document has to say about tackling drug-related crime. Crime is the primary focus of the strategy as you can tell from its full title: “From harm to hope: a 10-year drugs plan to cut crime and save lives.

Vision

The plan sets out a vision to “level up our neighbourhoods by ridding them of drugs, making them safe and secure places and enabling all areas to prosper and grow” and says that its priority is to cut off the drug supply that is causing most harm with a particular focus on “rolling up” county lines.

There are seven key elements to the government’s plan to break the supply chain, summarised in the infographic below and discussed in turn below.

Restricting upstream flow

Stemming the international flow of drugs has always been a colossal challenge for all governments. The government says it has established the Near Europe Taskforce, a team of NCA and Border Force officers focusing on upstream supply, port security, corruption, and intelligence and information sharing to identify and disrupt offenders, making it more difficult for Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) to transport drugs to the UK. It also intends to deploy more International Liaison Officers in significant source and transit countries to work in partnership to disrupt and prosecute those who supply illegal drugs.

Securing the border

Again, preventing drugs coming into the country is a difficult task with OCGs and enforcement engaged in a continuing arms race with drug smugglers adapting their methods in response to changes in enforcement practices. The government is developing Cerberus, a new multi-mode data gathering, analysis and targeting system, which will contain all relevant border data by 2026, in an attempt to use sophisticated analytics to build a rich intelligence picture of the traffic crossing the border.

Targeting the middle market

Middle markets are often the most important links in the chain to have any noticeable impact on drug supply. It has never been possible to stop importation (East Berlin had a raging heroin problem despite being surrounded by the wall and four occupying armies) and front line dealers are, tragically, only too easy to replace, so it makes sense to try to target the OCGs involved in the wholesale distribution of drugs. The government has already established Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs) as the main interface between the National Crime Agency and local police services. Some police services, such as the Met, deploy specialist crime proactive teams to try to tackle these groups. The details of what exactly the government plans to do is a bit unclear here apart from investment in trying to keep pace with new forms of digital communication used by OCGs and increasing staffing levels in ROCUs from the 20,000 new police officers being recruited. 

Rolling up county lines

The plan makes a high priority of tackling county lines, saying that the government “will move county lines from a low-risk, high-reward to a high-risk, high-consequence criminal activity”. The plan promises to invest an extra £145m into its County Lines programme over the next three years. In addition to the existing three dedicated County Lines Taskforces in London, Merseyside & the West Midlands, the government intends to extend its British Transport Police County Lines taskforce. The plan also promises funding for “specialist support for criminally exploited and trafficked young people and their families to help them exit from county lines activity and break their association with criminal gangs”.

Tackling the retail market

The main approach here is Project ADDER (Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement and Recovery) which you can see a full description of here. ADDER primarily aims to divert people dependent on drugs who are funding their dependency via daily criminal activity into treatment. It is important to note that ADDER is not an updated version of the Drugs Intervention Programme to be rolled out to every area of the country. Rather it is a 10-site pilot  with an evaluation intended to inform local practice. It is not clear how long ADDER will run for, the current official information published last week says March 2023 but the graphic reproduced above says this will be extended for a further two years.

Going after the money

There are also plans to step up efforts to tackle money laundering “by establishing a dedicated network of 30 regional fraud investigators this year”.

Prison security

This section mainly repeats recent prison policy with the installation of X-ray body scanners in all closed male prisons and more drug detection dogs.

Conclusion

Most of the components in this part of the strategy will be well known to people working in the drugs and crime sector. The big focus (accompanied by an extra £48m per year for the next three years) is on trying to improve our response to County Lines.

In the next post in this series, I will focus on plans to reinvest in our treatment and recovery system.

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