New Met boss ‘enthusiastic’ about diversion schemes for low-level drug offences

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The new Metropolitan Police Commissioner has said he is “very enthusiastic” about the prospect of diversion schemes for low-level drug offences in London.

Speaking at a meeting of the London Assembly police and crime committee on Wednesday, Sir Mark Rowley said he was “keen” to make the most of new legislation – expected next year – that will set out a framework for out of court disposals.

Out of court disposals allow police to deal quickly and proportionately to low-level offending without the need for prosecution in court and have been found to lower levels of reoffending.

Speaking on Wednesday, Sir Mark said the Met has been “less ambitious in out of court disposals than many other places”.

Police forces such as Thames Valley and West Midlands have already run pilot schemes, whereby anyone found in possession of small quantities of illegal drugs are offered advice and support about their drug use rather than facing criminal prosecution.

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Sir Mark said: “This is about evidence, and the evidence is that on certain types of crime, where you’ve got the right conditions in terms of the nature of the victim and the offender, that diversion generates higher victim satisfaction and lower recidivism. If you’ve got both of those things, why wouldn’t you do it?

“In terms of out of court disposals, not only does the evidence base show generally higher victim satisfaction and lower recidivism, but the benefits with non-white offenders were even higher. It’s a good thing to do anyway, and in a diverse, complex society it’s an even better thing to do, so I am very enthusiastic about it.”

The Commissioner added that introducing out of court disposals could help ease the pressure on the criminal justice system which is facing “growing backlogs”.

Earlier this year, Lord Charlie Falconer was appointed as chair of Sadiq Khan’s London Drugs Commission, which has been set up to examine the effectiveness of existing drug laws on cannabis.

Speaking at Mayor’s Question Time on Thursday, Sadiq Khan said that work on the Drugs Commission was “underway”, and that research was being conducted.

But pressed on what work had been done around diversion, Khan said “drug diversion is not at the fore of [the Met Commissioner’s] mind and nor is it mine”.

He said: “Lord Charlie Falconer, the former Lord Chancellor, was appointed in May this year to lead the Commission and he’s now finalising the recruitment of two deputy chairs and an expert reference group which will be compromised of independent experts in public health, criminal justice and drugs policy.

“The Institute for Global City Policing based at University College London has been appointed as a research partner and is now gathering and reviewing existing evidence to help shape the Commission’s focus and formulate lines of inquiry to pursue with witnesses.”

Khan added that a web page would be created soon to detail timescales for the Commission as well as its approach to gathering evidence.

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