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Durham first force to not prosecute low-level drug dealers

Chief constable encourages other forces to trial the controversial programme following its success.

Low-level drug dealers taken into custody will be given the opportunity to avoid prosecution.

Durham’s Chief Constable Mike Barton told Police Oracle vulnerable people forced into a situation where they sell drugs will be better off undergoing a programme rather than being dealt with by the Crown Prosecutiuon Service.

He said: “People think we’ve gone stark, stirring mad in Durham which is quite the opposite, we’ve got an eminently sensible approach.

“An awful lot of people who are lesser players and involved in drug dealing are sometimes there because they are vulnerable or being coerced or sometimes splitting a deal between them and somebody else who is in the room with them.

“This is very clearly - according to the definition - dealing, or being involved in the supply. But these are sad, vulnerable people who in the right circumstances would be better dealt with via Checkpoint than the law.”

Durham Police will be the first force in the UK to introduce the controversial measures as an expansion of its Checkpoint programme.

It was initially introduced in 2015 to rebuild the lives of drug addicts rather than giving them a criminal conviction.

CC Barton is happy with the outcome of the two year trial and says there is sufficient evidence to prove putting some people through Checkpoint is more beneficial than sending them to court.

The force, alongside Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg, will hire an extra four navigators to ensure a planned expansion runs smoothly.

The force aims to reduce offending by using navigators to establish the root cause and assist them into pathways out of offending such a securing a job or helping with family issues.

CC Barton said: “I know it’s controversial, but people are locked into this cycle of thinking that somehow they are part of the criminal justice sausage machine and all I do is lock people up and unthinkingly send them to court – well that isn’t how the world works.”

But not all offenders will be eligible for the programme, only those who have committed minor offences and plead guilty can be selected to undergo the four month programme.

They are monitored over two years. Offenders who fail Checkpoint  or choose not to cooperate will be prosecuted.

CC Barton addd: “We’re actually clearing the debris of minor offences that clutter the courts so that they can concentrate on trials that are dealing with more serious offenders.

“It’s not a soft option, it’s a sensible option."

The Durham Chief has been vocal previously. CC Barton spoke out in support of the decriminalisation of drugs - suggesting cannabis should be legalised and also called for “fix rooms” to assist with treating heroin addict.                   

He told Police Oracle: “All I’ve ever asked for is people to take a cold, hard, dispassionate, unprejudiced look at whether or not our current policies to tackle control drugs are working.

“From my perspective, running a police force under beleaguered circumstances, as we’ve over the last seven years, British policing has never had as much money taken out of it.

“Some could argue that we’ve never had the challenges we face now – we’re still only beginning to understand exactly how we police the internet – let alone the scourge of drugs, what it does to communities.

“So I’m asking sensible people to have a conversation, rather than this knee-jerk response that all drugs are bad and we should throw people in prison and incarcerate them for life and let them rot – it’s neither sensible nor humane.

“I am trying to take away cash and money and power away from the most dangerous people who are in charge of the distribution of tons or controlled drugs every year in the UK.

“A lot of the fatalities are from young people because they don’t know what they’re taking.

“I have to deal with the world as it is, not as I would want it to be.”

“I am enforcing the law more residuously than most, but I actually have more registered heroin addicts in my county than I have police officers.”

“Do people really know what’s going on? I don’t think so.”

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