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In tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph, the Prime Minister announces a ‘zero tolerance approach to street crime.’ Following the recruitment of Bill Bratton, Cameron says that “we haven’t talked the language of zero tolerance enough but the message is getting through.”
Over the past week in London I have seen the largest police presence on the beat for the five years that I’ve lived here. Wherever I’ve walked, I’ve noticed policemen – which was rare before. I completely welcome this increased presence, the streets feel safer and generally I get the impression that this always should have been the job of the police. I want this presence to carry on far beyond this week. Not only do I want the police to be there, but I want crime to be drastically reduced. And so it seems natural that a zero tolerance policy would be a great idea. Zero tolerance in almost all instances of crime would be perfect, but only if we had a perfect legal system.
The problem is that a zero tolerance policy will increase the number of criminals for drug offences. Despite the fact that David Cameron has rejected his earlier radicalism concerning drugs reform, he still remains true to the heath-over-crime argument concerning addicts. And so it would seem logical that he wouldn’t want a nation of criminals for smoking a little pot. Let’s remember that if Eton had acted upon a zero tolerance policy, he would have been kicked out of school.
Those opposed to drug reform will no doubt welcome the zero tolerance policy but it will be costly to our society in the long-term. Drug-usage should not be considered a legal offence anyway, but combined with a zero tolerance policing policy, it could be disastrous.
There are an estimated 2.87 million people who take drugs at least once a year and 1.57 million people who take drugs at least once a month in this country. 4.8% of 16-to-59 year-olds took drugs in the last month. Let’s hope that the drugs reform debate at the Liberal Democrat conference will show overwhelming support for new policy. Decriminalisation is the next logical step in the ongoing need for drugs reform, and it would certainly help this zero tolerance problem (though not solve all of the problems surrounding drugs).
If the future brings a police strategy that truly is zero tolerance, we need drugs reform. Otherwise, the Prime Minister will have to start questioning whether he’s ready to start convicting nearly 5% of our country’s population for their personal choices.