Great news on two fronts last week. First up, news filtered in about recent drugs raids on separate addresses in the Prestonfield area. There were arrests with three people appearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and the quantities of crack and heroin seized were substantial.
Kudos to the police and whoever or whatever led them to those addresses. All too easily we underestimate the antisocial behaviour and criminality which props up those who ply illegal drugs. On Friday I tried to help a man with his face in a paper bag in a main street with three lighter fuel canisters to hand. He was out of his mind and as he made off I could only wonder at the factors which had led him to this sorry state.
There are huge consequences; disturbance to neighbours is common; fear of unwelcome people injecting or plying their trade in the stair or the street paralyses many people from going about their business; often the people involved are at the forefront of cons such as benefit fraud; costs to society mount via the NHS, housing and even street cleaning costs. The ordinary citizen pays for this in different ways.
But these raids and arrests are only part of the story in that estate. I have other reports of streets and addresses nearby where suppliers have been plying their trade unhindered and will, no doubt, continue to do so, perhaps after a short period of lying low. Now I know the police need evidence and they work under the curse of laws and processes which tie up their ability to react promptly to intelligence supplied by the public. But still there are too many people who report drugs activity and get no feedback or see the supplying continue without hindrance. Now, of course, I understand the world of drugs intelligence means that the police must bide their time for all sorts of good reasons. But there is still a desperate need to improve the experience for people wanting to give information to the police. For a start, phoning the police call centre too often proves to be a nightmare experience for people wanting to do the right thing and pass on information.
All this makes the very powerful sight of police dogs, uniformed police and handcuffs in Prestonfield very, very welcome.
And then there are the legal highs or NPS drugs (New Psychoactive Substances) as they are known. I suspect use of heroin and crack cocaine has increased because of the national ban on the supply of some of these legal, but lethal, substances. Some people have been forced to change their drug of choice. I don’t think a ban is the whole answer, but it has certainly made a difference so far. The number of people injecting in stairs near legal high shops has decreased markedly.
For this progress so far we have much to thank two police officers in particular. It was a presentation from Sergeant Neil Wilson at St Leonard’s and the ever active Superintendent Matt Richards which seems to have been influential, leading the relevant committee in Whitehall to issue a one-year ban on five key substances used for NPS products.
Now I know there are those who say the fight against these drugs is futile and that it has already been lost. There is not space here to enter again the arguments in that debate. Suffice it to say that my years of experience dealing with the complaints from constituents, and before that as a policeman, lead me to the belief that we need to continue the war against these drugs. The recent police raids are good news and legal changes are welcome. But there is more to be done.
Councillor Cameron Rose is Conservative group leader at Edinburgh City Council representing the Southside & Newington ward.