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Drugs police not the best educators

Max Cruickshank is a youth work consultant

The police clearly have to be key players in strategies to tackle the drugs threat to our childen. They have a direct impact on how criminals behave, how many of them end up in court and the numbers who fill the prisons at a cost of pound;36,000 a year per prisoner.

But over the 45 years that I have been involved in drugs education and rehabilitation, what I have seen has not always been what I would call positive policing.

The Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency, under the leadership of a highly intelligent policeman, Graeme Pearson, features constantly in the press with news of yet another successful drugs bust. This is good policing, looking good in the public eye and delivering millions of pounds into a charitable fund to eradicate the scourge of drugs.

A lot of police activity is, of course, laudable, but it focuses on illegal drugs such as heroin and cannabis when the biggest killers of our citizens are legal drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol. There are virtually no arrests for selling cigarettes or booze to children.

It is in the area of drugs education that I have the most concerns about what police involvement does to our kids. Schools across the land for decades have allowed the police a free rein in running their version of drugs education. The police are not teachers, they are not social workers or even youth workers and they most certainly are not trained health education workers. So why do we trust them to run drugs education classes in schools?

There seems to be a growing interest in the police doing more of that, especially if they can take along with them ex-drug users to scare the pants off pupils. Will the police include those who have quit fags or no longer drink? These scare tactics have been proven across the world not to work. So why are they doing it?

Police officers south of the border have admitted that they have serious concerns about what role, if any, there is for the police in teaching children about drugs. They are concerned that the only sensible message the police can realistically deliver is that drugs are illegal and dangerous. The duty of the police is, after all, to prevent crime, to catch the criminals and to deliver them to the justice system.

There is no place for the police to deliver the much more useful harm reduction messages that help children make safe and sensible choices. For the police to do that would make them look as though they had gone soft on crime. It confuses the kids.

I do concede that the police have a useful role in the training of teachers and other professionals, but we should leave it to teachers and specialist drugs educationists to deliver drugs education.

Let us not forget that the police constantly complain about lack of staffing resources to do the job they are paid to do. So let them get on with it.

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