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Articles - Crime, police & trafficking
Written by Suzie Forell   
Tuesday, 25 November 1997 00:00

"Using Harm Reduction Policies within Drug Law Enforcement in the NSW Police Service, Australia"
SUZIE FORELL AND LORY PRICE
DRUG PROGRAMS COORDINATION UNIT
NSW POLICE SERVICE, AUSTRALIA
1997

1. Introduction

Australia is an island continent occupying almost the same land mass as the United States of America but with a population of only 18 million people, including our indigenous Aboriginal population of approximately 380,000. Most of the population lives in cities on the coastal fringe, with the vast inland desert areas only sparsely populated. On some outback cattle stations it can take two days to drive from one side to the other. Most of the population have arrived in waves of emigration from other countries over the last 200 years. Additionally, these people settled at large port areas around the coastline, such as Sydney Cove, with State and Territory Governments springing up around them to handle administrative decisions. Australia is thus divided up into eight areas, six States and two Territories, which come together as a Commonwealth of Australia, but which are largely autonomous for strategic planning and decision making. New South Wales, like other States/Territories, has its own Parliament and Cabinet Ministers, including a Minister for Health and a Minister for Police. It is the most populated State in Australia with just under six million inhabitants.

Australia is also a place of great diversity: diversity in cultures; languages (although predominantly English is spoken); lifestyle; access to health and other services and rural isolation. There is equal variation in attitudes to drug use; drugs of preference; degrees of drug dependence and other drug related problems. Thus, while in some isolated rural areas, the major drug issues may be alcohol abuse or petrol sniffing amongst young indigenous people, in another, it may be extensively poly-drug use of mainly recreational drugs, amongst a largely Anglo and affluent inner-city dance party crowd. In yet another city area, the problem can be increases in smoking and injecting heroin amongst teenagers of Indo-Chinese descent. In another rural area, crops of cannabis have been grown to finance heroin habits. thus becoming an alternative funding arrangement to traditional property crime. The types of harm associated 'with these different types of drug use and contexts also vary significantly.

Given the current legal framework in Australia, which defines the use of some drugs (and other drugs in particular contexts) as illegal, policing is and will remain one way in which the community responds to drug issues. The challenge, however, is to promote drug law enforcement which is constructive, that is, drug law enforcement which: focuses on reducing drug related harm (be it to the user or the community); and works in support of rather than against other government strategies (e.g., needle and syringe exchange).

Drug law enforcement in Australia today has been influenced by, and must continue to respond to, a number of factors. These include: the diversity of drug use, drug users and environments in Australia; the political and legal contexts, and policing objectives and practices.

Each of these contexts is discussed in more detail below. Programs indicative of what will hopefully be part of the future for drug law enforcement in this country will then be described.

2. Drug use in Australia

Some researchers such as Krivanek (1982) have gone so far as to describe Australia as the 'intoxicated society', with one of the highest levels of drug use in the world. However, it should be noted that the statistics supporting this statement may be in part a result of Australia being a democratic country with an open system for collecting this information, allowing close scrutiny. Furthermore, much of this drug use is of legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco and prescription drugs rather than illegal drugs. While illegal drugs are used in Australia, our country is fortunate not to have the heavy 'crack' use of the United States (NCADA, 1995) nor the heavy narcotics use of some Asian countries.

The National Drug Strategy Household Survey (1995) provides a snapshot of overall drug use in Australia. Based upon self reports, the survey found that of the Australian population aged 14 yrs or over:

- Twenty-three per cent are current regular smokers (smoke at least one cigarette a day).

- A further 3% are current occasional smokers (smoke less than one a day).

- In contrast, 76% are current drinkers, with over 50% of these drinking at least weekly (p.1).

- Two thirds of all current drinkers report that they usually drink at low levels - (less than two standard drinks for females and less than four for males) (p.1). - Thirty-nine per cent of the population have tried at least one illicit drug, with 17% having used one in the last 12 months. The drug most likely to have been tried is Marijuana (p. 2).

- Ten per cent of the population have tried at least one 'hard' drug (heroin, amphetamines, hallucinogens, cocaine, ecstasy, etc), with 4% having tried at least one of these in the last 12 months (p. 2).

While these figures represent the Australian population overall, as stated earlier, patterns and types of drug use do vary extensively between different areas and different demographic subgroups.

3. Political Context Of Drug Strategies For Law Enforcement

In 1985, the Commonwealth Government began a National Campaign against Drug Abuse (NCADA). Despite its warlike sounding name, it differed from the 'War on Drugs' being carried out in the USA by its using ' harm minimisation' as its underlying philosophy'. A set NCADA budget was given to States/ Territories which was to be matched by them. However, on top of this cost-shared funding, States have also devoted an enormous part of their own health and law enforcement budgets to solving problems associated with drug problems.

In 1992, as a result of an evaluation of this National Campaign against Drug Abuse, the Commonwealth Government decided to discard this militaristic title in favour of the "National Drug Strategy" (NDS), denoting an even stronger support for harm minimisation. The Committee formed to oversight its activities, the National Drug Strategy Committee (NDSC) reported on its achievements to the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy (MCDS). The MCDS decided to devote up to 10 % of funding that was shared with each of the eight States/Territories towards law enforcement projects. This decision, taken in 1992, aimed to create a stronger partnership with Police doing drug law enforcement, although some State Health Departments chose to interpret 'law enforcement' broadly to include Attorney-General's Departments, Corrective Services and Juvenile Justice. This has meant that little, if any money has been provided to some Police Services.

In New South Wales (NSW), however, funding did begin to flow. For the first time, designated resources could be spent on programs based on harm minimisation principles, rather than solely on traditional policing methods of controlling supply of drugs and arresting drug offenders. Attempts to establish harm minimisation programs have been done against a background revealed by more recent research reports (eg Sutton and James, 1996, Green and Purnell, 1995, and Weatherburn and Lind, 1996). These will be discussed in more depth in a later section. It should also be noted that programs were being implemented into a. service of over 13,000 sworn police officers, spread over a state with large isolated and sparsely populated areas.

4. Context of harm reduction within community based policing

Marlatt (1996) has outlined four underlying assumptions central to harm reduction: (a) harm reduction is a public health alternative to the moral/ criminal and disease models of drug use and addiction; (b) it recognises abstinence as an ideal outcome but accepts alternatives that reduce harm; (c) it has emerged primarily as a 'bottom-up' approach based on addict advocacy, rather than a 'top-down' policy established by addiction professionals; and (d) it promotes low threshold access to services as an alternative to traditional high threshold approaches.

Pearson (1992) has outlined that despite the application of the principles of harry reduction to drug enforcement being surprisingly large (e.g., random breath testing, (RBT), diversion of minor offenders, etc), police are often thought to be [and in some cases are] hostile to harm reduction strategies. To some degree, the hostility which is exhibited by some police personnel, is a measure of frustration ensuing from the failure of many enforcement focused drug control measures. The hostility also arise; out of a lack of awareness by police of the impact of harm reduction alternatives or issues that concern them - e.g., the impact of long term methadone maintenance it reducing crime.

Broadly speaking, Pearson (1992) has arranged the aims of harm reduction for law enforcement under four broad categories :

1) the containment of the numbers of new users recruited into the system through effective and focused low-level policing (generalist drug law enforcement) it conjunction with other prevention strategies.

2) the encouragement of existing users to take 'early retirement', (sometimes it Australia called the exit ramp), from drug-using careers, and to enter treatment programs, which include maintenance prescribing, as an intermediate objective.

3) the minimisation of counter-productive aspects of enforcement strategies through arrest-referral schemes, diversion programs and other community based activities which avoid the excessive use of custodial measures an( enhance the prospects of rehabilitation.

4)   the minimisation of harm to the wider community, by a reduction of crime committed by users in order to sustain their habits.

These categories apply largely to generalist drug law enforcement officers out on the beat rather than to specialist drug law enforcement officers, whose main task is to target high level traffickers and dealers.

For alcohol related strategies, dealing with a legal drug makes the planning an( implementation of harm reduction strategies by police more direct. Research b) Ireland (1995) has established the central impact beat Police have been able to have in reducing some of the harm associated with the misuse of alcohol.

5. Effects of drug laws on community based drug law enforcement

In NSW, a department other than the Police Service has responsibility for designing legislation about liquor control for licensed premises. Recent Amendments to the Liquor Act and the Registered Clubs Act have been termed colloquially 'the Harm Minimisation Bills' as they are based on promoting responsible service of alcohol b) bar staff, as well as responsible consumption of alcohol by patrons. These change, have been supported by Police and include new complaints for (a) large numbers o intoxicated people to be seen leaving a premise and (b) running a continuously violent premise. The changes also require all bar staff to have attended mandatory training in responsible serving of alcohol.

The NSW Courts have also seen new litigation being successful against licensees who have served patrons to the point of intoxication who have later either damaged themselves or been damaged by another party on or off the licensee's premises.

For community based drug law enforcement involving illicit drugs, the function and role of police is even less well defined. Police are required and expected to enforce a law which defines the use of particular drugs as illegal. However, the Police Service does not have control over the design or content of this law. With the role of Police dictated by laws which they are expected to enforce but not influence, then Police are powerless in situations where politics and politicians fail to keep the laws up to date with broad community expectations (Feltes, 1994). That is, they are often required by law to pursue drug related matters, even in cases where harm may be exacerbated rather than reduced by their actions.

6. Use of discretion

Police are invested with "originary power' as part of their role, which allows them informal discretionary power concerning offenders. However, while it may be simple for Police to use discretion to settle neighbourhood disputes, family conflicts and minor offences, the use of this discretion is more complex when responding to drug issues. Some of the factors which complicate the use of police discretion in drug related matters follow.

1. Concern by police about allegations of corruption. Due to the focus of recent Inquiries into police corruption, police are increasingly nervous about the use of discretion in drug law enforcement. They are concerned, for instance, that if a lone officer confiscates a small amount of marijuana, disposes of it and lets its owner go, the officer could later be falsely accused of corruptly "stealing" the drugs.

2. Lack of explicit Service support for the use of this discretion. Before police will readily use their discretion in relation to drug issues, they need to be given explicit permission to do so, as well as a system by which they can record their decisions. If discretion in this area is to be encouraged, it must be accountable. At present in NSW, if police use their discretion and the results .are negative, it becomes that individual officer's personal responsibility and not that of the organisation. Therefore, until the organisation explicitly supports individual officers in this regard, the use of discretion will remain low.

3. Community pressure. Patrol based police in particular, are often put under great pressure from their local communities to "maintain public order" - often including the pursuit of highly visible illicit drug users (see Sutton and James, 1996:119). This pressure encourages some police to actively pursue drug users, rather than using their discretion with users and focusing their energies on dealers.

4. Lack of motivation. A further difficulty for Police is that while many chose to join a Police Service 'to help others', they rarely live and work in the same area, and are frequently moved from patrol to patrol. For these reasons they often do not get to see how their efforts at the service function actually contribute value to the quality of local living. The resulting lack of motivation for their role contributes to the level of discontent and frustration of officers who rarely see the results of their work on a long term basis.

In summary: Police Services need to allow officers the discretion to divert people into drug and alcohol services without entering all offenders into the criminal justice system; Officers need to be trusted to use their discretion to its utmost in an accountable way; they need to be able to practice their profession in one place long enough for their effort to be seen to have good outcomes; and activities have to be increased in those fields where Police work is shown to be most effective.

If the number of new recruits to drug use can be contained by Police focussing on community drug education; if a sufficient level of irritation by Police to existing users to take an exit ramp away from using can be found; if Police can use diversion methods and avoid custodial measures; and if Police can more effectively target drug dealers rather than users, then all these measures will contribute to the use of harm reduction by drug law enforcement officers, both specialist and community based.

7. The current state of drug law enforcement in Australia - some findings

Drug law enforcement in Australia has recently been evaluated, primarily in a study by Melbourne University based criminologists, Sutton and James (1996). A separate study has also examined how 'success' in drug law enforcement is measured in Australia (Green and Purnell, 1995), while a third study has examined the impact of drug law enforcement policy on the heroin market (Weatherburn and Lind, 1995).

Between them, these studies have emphasised the limitations of current drug law enforcement policy and action, not just in NSW, but throughout the country. They also suggest how drug law enforcement structures and practices could be amended, so as to facilitate a change in direction more in line with harm reduction principles. Some of their many findings are discussed below.

7.1 The declared aim of drug law enforcement and the reality

Like many other countries., the declared aim of drug law enforcement in Australia, and of specialist agencies in particular, is to target major drug offenders (Green & Purnell, 1995, p. 37), with the ultimate goal of reducing the availability of illicit drugs at street level 2.

Green and Purnell (1993) found, however, that despite this stated aim of targeting major drug offenders, that "a significant proportion of crimes detected are not major drugs offences" (p. 39). They found this was the case, for both specialist and generalist police. For instance, in 1993, about three-quarters (75.5%) of all drug offences detected in NSW, concerned drug consumers compared to providers (Green and Purnell, 1993, p. iv). Organised by type of drug offence for the same year, 70% of offences concerned cannabis, compared to 8.2% which concerned narcotics (heroin and other opium-derivatives) (p. v).

A number of reasons have been offered for this apparent gap between harm reduction policy and practice. Firstly, while specialist agencies do target major offenders, many less significant drug offenders get caught up in their nets. As a result, the highest proportion of charges laid by specialist agencies tend to be for possession and use, rather than for supply or other offences (see Green and Purnell 1995:813).

Secondly, as Sutton and James (1996) point out, most drug law enforcement is in fact undertaken by non-specialist patrol based police, rather than specialist agencies. They found for example, that in 1993, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) (specialist section of the NSW Police) was responsible for only 5.9% of all drug detection's in NSW (p. 112), with generalist police responsible for the significant majority of detections. This is particularly problematic as most drug offenders who come to the attention of local police are minor offenders including users. These may be situations where police are called to quieten down a party and find people smoking dope, or where drugs are found during a routine check of a car. This is further compounded by the fact that there are a lot more patrol based police than specialist drug law enforcement officers° - thereby increasing the number of drug users coming into contact with police.

Another important finding of Sutton and James (1996) was that there is a lack of policy - what they called a "policy vacuum" - covering the work of non specialist police. Drug policy, if it existed at all, was directed towards the specialist areas. As suggested earlier, generalist police on the other hand, tend to respond to local community demands - demands which may well be out of line with harm reduction objectives. Sutton and James (1996) further observed a: "sharp disparity between policy and operational drug law enforcement personnel in terms of their knowledge of and commitment to the demand reduction component of the National Drug Strategy of harm minimisation. In essence, senior policy personnel were formally committed to the strategy, and in many cases forged relationships with., health and educational agencies.

Operational personnel, on the other hand, were much less even in their knowledge and acceptance of the importance of demand reduction efforts" (p. 114).

They noted, as a result, that "non-specialists often are applying laws against streetlevel drug offending in ways that may have little regard to broader policy goals" (p.120).

Sutton and James made numerous recommendations concerning the future of drug law enforcement in Australia. They suggest that specialist agencies should have a dual role, both targeting high level offenders (given the strong moral imperative to do soy) as well as coordinating drug law enforcement policy for both specialist and generalist police. In setting policy, Sutton and James recommend a focus on reducing drug related harm. For instance, the types of drug markets selected for targeting should not be chosen on the basis of how easy they are to break up or for the prominence of the players, but for the extent of harm reduced. Using such a rationale, law enforcement would not concentrate, for example, upon eradicating domestic cannabis plantations (thus increasing the price of cannabis) at a time when the price and purity of heroin are so low as to make it an attractive option. As Sutton and James (1996) point out:

"Wiping out the domestic cannabis industry would be of little benefit to Australia if the net effect simply were to provide further spur to development of illicit importation networks and/or to encourage more young people to experiment with amphetamines or other 'powder' drugs" (p.117).

Instead, law enforcement resources might be focused on heroin imports or the manufacture of amphetamines.

Sutton and James (1996) further note the key role that police have "both in deterring local distribution and consumption and in monitoring and reshaping local markets to minimise health problems, drug related crime and other harms." (p.x).

The comments made by Sutton and James (1996) arise from research undertaken in 1994/5. A visit to NSW by these researchers in late 1996 established that NSW has moved quickly to lessen the policy and planning gap described in their report. The progress of the last two years is discussed below.

8. Using the NDS cost-shared funding for NSW Police Service: Applying harm reduction strategies to policing

8.1 Formation of the Drug Programs Coordination Unit (DPCU)

In the financial year 1993/94, cost-shared funding from NDS was first provided to the NSW Police Service, to assist with harm minimisation programs. One of the first actions taken was to employ a Drug Programs Coordinator from outside the Police Service who had a thorough understanding of harm minimisation principles. That person remains responsible for both policy and program development. A number of the programs listed over the page were implemented by that person in the first year.

The next year's funding allowed an expansion of policy and implementation of programs, with the addition of a Research and Evaluation Officer and an Education Officer. Together with the Coordinator, they formed what was called the Drug Programs Co-ordination Unit (DPCU). The unit is responsible for fostering a harm reduction approach to drug law enforcement by both generalist and specialist police. The range of skills within the Unit are similar to those advocated for such a unit by Sutton and James (1996), though not as extensive. Not only are policy and programs developed by the unit, but the education required to have this policy understood and implemented at the street level is also provided. The inclusion of evaluation skills in the unit has meant that the impact of programs being implemented could be promptly fed back to the policy coordinator, to further influence that policy work.

The DPCU is placed in the strategic planning command of the police service, allowing a certain amount of freedom to initiate new ideas without the traditional weight of conforming to normal operational expectations. Although the Unit was not located within the specialist DEA, the DPCU works very closely with this group, as well as with the police agency with responsibility for liquor and tobacco licensing.

The Coordinator of the Unit is also well placed to brief the Minister, Ministry, Commissioner and, through the Executive Director, the Senior Executive Group of the Service. This has produced a top-down introduction of harm minimisation. To complement this, the DPCU Education Officer has been involved in the "bottom-up" approach. This has involved education and training activities across Patrols and at the Academy. Officers have welcomed new community-based activities they could carry out that made them feel they were 'making a difference' instead of just locking people up. In ways such as this, the knowledge and experience of the DPCU staff has quickly made them a valuable adjunct to the activities of operational Police.

8.2 Programs implemented by the DPCU

Most of the programs implemented by the Service have involved more than one agency and are being trialed at local levels. Some programs have been developed with different target communities, for example Aboriginal and Indo-Chinese communities.

Four Programs will be discussed in some depth but others can be described in brief. They include:

the Drinksafe Program where Police and Health Officers worked together to do Random Breath Tests for patrons in licensed premises so they could check safe drink-driving capacities as well as a health check for hazardous and harmful levels of consumption, with referrals to counselling if desired.

Kings Cross Liquor Industry Accord for best practice when 160 liquor licences exist in a square kilometre of nightclubs and entertainment area.

Kings Cross Responsible Service of Alcohol Training to bar staff on-site.

Aboriginal Streetbeat Project in Redfern, an inner city suburb where many young people are at risk of drug use and other crime.

Aboriginal Youth Education Camps where Police assist tribal elders to run drug and alcohol education camps with cultural activities to at risk young people

Inter-agency Task Force on Recidivism of Drug and Alcohol Offenders to find solutions and interventions across agencies.

Planned Inter-agency Forum on Diversion of Drug and Alcohol Offenders

Prevention of Alcohol and other Drug Abuse amongst Police Officers Project offers healthy lifestyle information to assist with preventing misuse of all drugs.

Harm minimisation courses at the Police Academy to ensure new recruits understand the principles to be used.

9. Outlines of some major harm reduction initiatives by police - in more depth 9.1 The Community Drug Education Program

The Community Drug Education Program has been designed primarily as a demand reduction program. It aims to:

i) train patrol based police officers to participate effectively with other relevant organisations in drug education for community groups (e.g., schools, Neighbourhood Watch, parents groups); and

ii) facilitate the NSW Police Service delivering well informed messages, which are consistent with harm minimisation principles.

The program is also an effective way of getting the harm reduction message to patrol based police, with the trained officers acting as a resource about drugs for their patrols. As officers from every patrol are being trained, this resource is available throughout the State.

Officers are trained to provide objective information about:

- current laws related to tobacco, alcohol and other drugs;

- the range of legal consequences of using different drugs; - issues involved in enforcing drug related laws; and

- other sources of information and support available in their community to respond to drug related issues.

The officers are supported on an ongoing basis with up to date information and resources. Resources include pamphlets for young people and adults about alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, ecstasy, etc.

9.2 Patrol Commander and Patrol Education

As well as the intensive training provided to Community Drug Education Officers (CDEOs), an education strategy has also been put in place to provide information to patrol commanders and their staff about different harm reduction approaches to drug issues. For instance, information kits have been created about harm minimisation (including examples of programs existing within this philosophy), methadone maintenance programs and needle and syringe exchange programs. In each case, the brochures highlight:

- how these programs help reduce crime (as well as other risks to users and the community);

- how harm minimisation has practical applications in policing;

- why police should participate in and/or support these programs; - how police can participate in and/or support these programs.

These information kits have been distributed to every patrol in NSW. As well as providing the kits, the DPCU, where we are based, supports patrols by speaking about specific drug issues at patrol training days or specific seminars.

This program, together with the community drug education program, has been particularly useful in addressing difficulties which have arisen from the wide interpretations given to the term 'harm minimisation'. Many Police officers adhere to the idealistic principle of total abstinence from drug use, despite the evidence in front of their eyes of a great deal of drug use. The information provided better educates Police about how their work already encompasses harm reduction across a range of harms including those related to alcohol and other drugs. It also informs police that there is a position for abstinence within the harm minimisation perspective. Without some success in this level of understanding, Police at patrol level will continue to misinterpret the relevance of harm minimisation and harm reduction programs to their traditional policing role. The patrol education program and the CDEP both also address aims raised by Pearson (1992) as well as the issues of ignorance and distrust of harm minimisation raised by Sutton and James (1996).

9.3 Walgett Night Patrol

Another, more direct harm reduction program is the Walgett Night Patrol. Walgett is a small isolated town in far north-west NSW. It is a place where there are major issues of alcohol and violence within a largely predominantly indigenous community. The Walgett Night Patrol is a team of local community members, who pick up intoxicated people from wherever they have been drinking and socialising (e.g., the pub, the streets), and drive them either home or to the proclaimed place. The project aims to reduce:

i) alcohol related crime and violence (domestic and otherwise) in Walgett;

ii) the number of Aboriginal people charged with street offences;

iii) the number of Aboriginal people held in police custody.

The bus is also used for activities which provide an alternative to alcohol use - such as taking kids to basketball and for other community purposes. While the bus used by the Night Patrol has been supplied through the NSW Police Service, a local committee organises the service and volunteers drive the bus. The committee, which includes the Patrol Commander at Walgett, is largely made up of local Aboriginal people.

The Walgett Night Patrol is an example of a program which responds to a particular need in a particular community. A recent evaluation of the program found that it does reduce alcohol related violence in the town. It does so by moving people home or away from where fights tend to break out if everybody stays in town. This does not mean that we will simply try and repeat exactly the same program elsewhere. Programs such as this need to be tailored to suit the needs of each particular community. This program directly addresses the third and fourth aims of harm reduction for drug law enforcement expressed by Pearson (1992).

9.4 Drug Action Teams

The Fairfield Drug Action Team (DAT) was set up by the DPCU, as a pilot for a new harm reduction approach to community based drug law enforcement. The DAT model is an approach which integrates the work of local generalist police with other handson service providers in a specific local area. It is a model which aims to work in the context of diversity described earlier in this paper, as well as to address some of the issues raised in Sutton and James (1996).

The Fairfield/Cabramatta DAT was the first DAT to be set up in Australia. Cabramatta is an outer suburb of Sydney, known as a major heroin distribution centre for the Eastern states of Australia. The heroin available in Cabramatta is pure and cheap. At grades of up to 80 % pure (median purity 570/o), heroin has a street value of about A$30 a cap, or A$390 a gram (approx US$23 a cap or US$304 a gram) (O'Brien et al, 1996:8).

Fairfield and Cabramatta are also ethnically diverse areas. There are vibrant communities of Vietnamese, Italian and Spanish people as well as an increasing number of Cambodian and Laotian people. As well as South East Asian/Australian users and dealers, a large number of the users in Cabramatta are Anglo/EuropeanAustralians, who come to the area from other parts of Sydney and NSW for the cheap deals.

A study focus on heroin users in this and another area in Sydney has found increases in the number of young people using heroin (O'Brien et al, 1996, pp. 8-9). Another study focusing on Cabrarnatta itself has noted the high number of young, largely (but not exclusively) South East Asian people smoking heroin or chasing the dragon, and subsequently making the transition to injecting. In contrast young Caucasian users tend to start their heroin use by injecting (Swift and Maher, in press). These are just some of the complex issues to which services in Cabramatta need to respond.

The DAT is made up of local police (including CDEOs), needle and syringe exchange workers, drug and alcohol workers, youth workers, Juvenile Justice and Education Department officers, local council officials (eg from Waste Management re needle disposal, youth services), methadone providers, Police Ethnic Community Liaison Officers, DPCU staff and others. The DAT is chaired by a local Councillor and ex Mayor.

The role of the Fairfield DAT is to:

- identify local drug related harms to the community and to users;

- identify and implement intersectoral strategies to reduce these harms; - monitor and document the impact of strategies trialed;

- provide/arrange for education and training about harm minimisation approaches to drug use for services (including police) and the community;

- facilitate and/or advocate for policy change, improved services, better diversion away from Court systems, improved public health measures regarding blood-borne infections, and changes to legislation concerning drug use which target users rather than traffickers;

- improve communication and cooperation between services, as well as a better understanding of and respect for each other's work; and

- make the best use of limited resources by prioritising issues and resources and reducing overlap between agencies.

Some of the specific projects being undertaken by the Fairfield DAT include:

- providing information in community languages (in the form of brochures, radio programs, cartoons, etc) for non-English speaking parents, about the legal process young people may get involved in, if charged with a drug related offence;

- developing strategies to reduce the number of discarded needles and syringes in the area;

- providing alternative entertainment for young people;

- encouraging local religious leaders (e.g. from the Buddhist temple to be involved in supporting the families of young drug users and reducing other drug related harms; and

- supporting the establishment of a dedicated health service (including needle and syringe exchange) for drug users.

One way in which teams such as this may be particularly valuable is in identifying areas where active law enforcement can reduce a particular local drug related harm. An example may be in targeting a supplier or dealer who is selling a particularly dangerous batch of a certain drug. Another example may be in identifying and targeting for enforcement a particularly irresponsible licensee or health service provider. I should stress, the following actions would not be taken lightly or without adequate information. However, this is one way that specialist drug law enforcement personnel may also become more involved in the local teams, albeit probably more on a needs basis than all the time.

In Cabramatta, the specialist DEA cooperated with the DPCU in producing a strategic drug plan for that area, in an attempt to fill this policy vacuum at the local level.

The NSW Police, together with all other mainland Australian police services, hope to trial this DAT concept around the country. Over a three year period the proposed project aims to:

1. increase cooperation, coordination and understanding between police and other services in defined local areas. Through these partnerships, ideas, resources and strategies to reduce drug related- harm are shared; 2. implement, assess and document a range of intersectoral harm reduction strategies, which may be used as examples for other local areas wanting to reduce drug related harms;

3. increase the involvement of specialist and generalist police in intersectoral harm reduction drug strategies (e.g., demand reduction strategies such as early intervention, diversion, referral and education); 4. trial a range of indicators of drug related harm, that may be used to measure impact of community based drug law enforcement efforts; and

5. educate generalist and specialist personnel involved in drug law enforcement about harm reduction and how to incorporate these strategies into their work.

6. to promote harm minimisation as the philosophical base of all drug law enforcement work;

7. increase cooperation and coordination between generalist and specialist drug law enforcement officers.

9.5 Creating new measures of success in drug law enforcement

Another area in which we are beginning to do more work, is in creating new measures of success in drug law enforcement. The effectiveness of drug law enforcement in Australia has to date been measured using largely process and activity measures (e.g., number of teams established to target various drugs, number of operations), though all jurisdictions do have some outcome and impact measures (see Sutton and James, 1996). Speaking just for NSW, current performance measures include:

- the quantity of illicit drugs seized each year

- the value of assets realised each year [from confiscations]

- the number of persons taking up or continuing drug use each year (Corporate Plan, 1995 - 1998, p.12)'

The DEA [specialist agency] Strategic Plan lists as its measures of effectiveness:

"Number and quality of arrests, charges and seizures.

Number and outcomes of referrals to NSVV Crime Commission Civil Forfeiture Division. Number of target referrals from State Intelligence Group. Number and outcome of joint operations." (Sutton & James, 1996:36).

Other measures described to Sutton and James (1996) in their evaluation include the number of cannabis plants eradicated and clandestine laboratories (making amphetamines etc) located (p.36).

The types of measures described above are obviously limited as a way of assessing what impact enforcement has on drug related harm. Measures such as "number of joint operations" and numbers of "arrests, charges and seizures" are purely measures of activity. As Sutton and James point out (and police themselves realise) until you know a base line for these figures, they are not particularly useful as measures of impact (p.80). Furthermore, until consideration is given to what impact increased numbers of arrests, seizures and charges has on drug related harm, these measures are not particularly useful.

Quality of arrests, charges and seizures, and outcomes of joint operations focus more squarely on the results of police activities. But again, until "quality" and "outcome" are more carefully defined, these measures are also limited. For instance, what is a "quality" arrest and what is a positive outcome of a joint investigation?

In order to refocus police notions of success in drug law enforcement, more careful attention needs to be given to the aims of drug law enforcement, as well as the measures of success. The first step of this process is redefining "success" for drug law enforcement in terms of the amount of drug related harm reduced. This may be harm to individual users (e.g., reduced number of fatal overdoses, number of people contracting HIV or HEP C), or harm to the community (e.g., reduction of needles discarded on the streets and reduction in drug related crime - be it assaults, acquisitive crime or break and enters).

Even the work of specialist agencies could be better measured in terms of their possible impact on "drug supplies, drug trafficking organisations, drug markets, drug use, drug-related harm and drug related crime." (Sutton & James 1996:130). However, to even begin to contemplate such measures, significant structural change needs to occur in police services to ensure that people with the appropriate skills (analysis, research, investigations, communication etc) are allocated to do this work (p.129). Extensive education programs are also required throughout the service, to ensure such measures are understood and applied at street level.

Teams such as the DAT, can make a very useful contribution to measuring the impact of drug law enforcement at the local level. Not only can all agencies work together to implement local strategies, but they can also drawn upon information from all their agencies to help evaluate strategies. One result of this is that "success" is considered by each agency from a number of perspectives: in terms of its impact on user health, public health, public concern about drug misuse, public safety, preventing custodial measures and more. Sharing strategies and performance measures is also valuable, given the very real difficulty in actually isolating the impact of any one agency from another in a defined local area.

11. Conclusion

Current drug law enforcement practices in NSW have developed out of particular context, which at the policy level has stressed harm reduction, but at a street level has still involved traditional policing approaches to drug issues: approaches are sometimes antagonistic towards harm reduction strategies. We have had the good fortune in Australia of some excellent research focusing on these issues. The research has not only highlighted the difficulties in drug related policing practices, but also offered direction and strategies to achieve a greater harm reduction focus in policing.

As the researchers observe, it will not be a quick or easy process and will require significant structural change to drug law enforcement. The type of work the Drug Programs Coordination Unit is doing includes trialing relatively small scale pilot projects, which aim to address particular drug related harms at the local level, which if successful could be used more widely across 'the service. The other vital aspect of our work is facilitating the major changes described by the constructive work of researchers such as Sutton and James (1996).

1 The increasing use of this philosophy world wide, and even more recently in the USA, has been well outlined by Marlatt (1996).

2 It is interesting to note that Green and Pumell (1995) found no consistent criteria, either within or between agencies, to define what a 'major' or 'high level' offender is (p. 37). Operational definitions tend to be informal and fluid, such that "major" in one area or at one point in time may be relatively minor in another.

3 Of charges laid by the NSW Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in 1993, 38.6% were for possession/use, 34.5% were for supply, 2.9% supply commercial quantity, 11.1% - cultivate/manufacture and 1.1% cultivate/manufacture - commercial quantity.

4 While there are approximately 13,000 sworn officers in the NSW Police Service, there are only about 260 police in its specialist DEA.

5 Weatherburn and Lind (1995) found that, in a particular area of Sydney, the average size of heroin seizures had no impact on the price purity and availability of heroin.

 

References

Feltes, T. (1994) 'New Philosophies in Policing', Police Studies, Vol.XVII No.2, pp.29-48

Green, P. & Purnell, I. (1995) Measuring the Success of Law Enforcement in Australia in Targeting Major Offenders Relative to Minor Offenders. National Police Research Unit, Adelaide, Australia.

Ireland, S. (1995) 'PLEBS: Police, Licensed Premises, Excessive Consumption, Blokes and Strategies to Reduce Alcohol Related Violence, Crime and Antisocial Behaviour'. Paper presented for the Premier's Seminar on Alcohol and the Community; Misuse, Effects and Solutions. Parliament House, Sydney, 3 August 1995.

Krivanek, J. (1982) Drug Problems, People Problems, George Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Marlatt, G. A. (1996) 'Harm Reduction: Come as You Are', Addictive Behavior, Vol.21, No.6, pp.779-788.

National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (1995) 'Patterns of Drug Use: Australia and the United States' National Drug Strategy Statistical Update, Issue 7.

National Drug Strategy,   Household Survey (1995) Survey Report 1995 Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services, AGPS, Canberra

O'Brien, S., Darke, S., and Hando, J., (1996) 'Drug trends: Findings from the Illicit Drug Reporting System (IDRS) Drug Trends Report, 1996, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Sydney

Pearson, G. (1992) 'Drugs and Criminal Justice: A Harm Reduction Perspective' in P.

O'Hare, R. Newcombe, A. Matthews, E. Buning, and E. Drucke (Eds.) The Reduction of Drug Related Harm. Routledge, London.

Sutton, A. & James, S. (1995) Evaluation of Australian Drug Anti-Trafficking Law Enforcement, National Police Research Unit, Adelaide, Australia.

Weatherburn D. & Lind, B. (1995)_ Drug Law Enforcement Policy and its Impact on the Heroin Market NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, Sydney, Australia.

 

Our valuable member Suzie Forell has been with us since Sunday, 19 December 2010.