News archive 2007
Cannabis reclassification: study findings22 Jan 2007, PR 07/07
Despite police guidance to issue street warnings for most cannabis possession offences since its downgrading from Class B to C in 2004, a new study from King's College London has shown major inconsistencies in how the drug is being policed.
Researchers from the Institute for Criminal Policy Research (ICPR) led by Mike Hough, Director of the ICPR and Professor of Criminal Policy, found the proportion of street warnings in four police areas varied from 22 per cent to 42 per cent. The decision to arrest or issue a street warning depended on factors such as: the views of the officer; the amount of cannabis found; the attitude of the offender ,and local policy.
The study, Policing cannabis as a Class C drug: an arresting change? was compiled for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and looked at the impact of reclassification in 2004 on cannabis policing. It focussed on the new practice of issuing street warnings for possession, instead of making arrests. It also captured views of the police and young people about the changes.
Despite having a legal duty to arrest 16 and 17 year-olds, almost half of interviewed officers wanted to police them in the same way as adults. One police officer interviewed for the study said: ‘It just seems a bit unfair for a 16 year-old to get nicked for it and an 18 year-old in the same group to get a slap on the wrist and that's it.'
In some police force areas, the issuing of street warnings appeared to be driven by pressure from senior officers to meet targets for the number of “offences brought to justice”.
People from black and minority ethnic groups in the four sites in the study were over-represented in the arrest and street warning statistics for cannabis possession.
Report author, Mike Hough said: ‘When cannabis was reclassified as a Class C drug, guidelines were issued advising officers to give street warnings for most possession offences, arresting only in aggravating circumstances. We found that street warnings were issued for under half of possession offences. Over half of officers were against the downgrading and many said that cannabis arrests often led to the detection of more serious crimes. In fact, we found that this occurred in less than one per cent of cases.'
Officers in busy urban sites had a better understanding of cannabis policing than those working in the quieter areas who dealt with such offences less frequently. Nearly all the officers said that they had dealt with a member of the public who believed – or claimed to believe – that cannabis had been legalised.
Rough estimates for the first year of street warnings suggest that cannabis reclassification had saved more than £3.5 million of police money and over 250,000 officer hours across the 43 forces of England and Wales. The researchers concluded that policy on policing cannabis should follow three principles:
-effective monitoring of the policing of cannabis offences, with some form of independent scrutiny;
-close scrutiny of the impact of cannabis policing on black and ethnic minority groups, to ensure even-handed treatment;
-keeping a close watch on the way in which performance management targets affect the policing of cannabis.
Notes to editors
Policing cannabis as a Class C drug: an arresting change? The full report, Policing cannabis as a Class C drug: an arresting change? by Tiggey May, Martin Duffy, Hamish Warburton and Mike Hough is published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as part of the Drug and Alcohol series (ISBN 9 781 85935 543 5, price £14.95). A free download of the report is available at http://www.jfr.org.uk
The study involved observational work with operational police officers; interviews with 150 police officers; analysis of custody records and street warning data and interviews with 61 young people. An internet survey of 749 respondents was also conducted. Fieldwork data was supplemented by published statistics.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the largest social policy research and development charities in the UK. It supports a research and development programme that seeks to understand the causes of social difficulties and explore ways of overcoming them.
Institute for Criminal Policy Research
The Institute for Criminal Policy Research at King's College London carries out multidisciplinary research into crime and the criminal justice system. They produce work which is independent, and objective and of the highest technical quality. Their key audiences are managers and practitioners within the criminal justice system, other professionals working with offenders, and politicians and their advisors. Research approaches incorporate both quantitative and qualitative methods.
King's College London
King's College London is the fourth oldest university in England with more than 13,700 undergraduates and nearly 5,600 graduate students in nine schools of study based at five London campuses. It is a member of the Russell Group: a coalition of the UK's major research-based universities. The College has had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level, and it has recently received an excellent result in its audit by the Quality Assurance Agency.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, international relations, medicine, nursing and the sciences, and has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe and is home to four Medical Research Council Centres, more than any other university.
King's is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings, with income from grants and contracts of more than £100 million, and has an annual turnover of more than £363 million.
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