Drugs gangs 'allowed to flourish in West Midlands due to police officer cuts'

Drugs gangs across the West Midlands have been allowed to "flourish" because of Government cuts to officer numbers, a police official has said.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster

The region's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Simon Foster said the "reckless" decision had contributed to a rise in gang-related violence.

The West Midlands has lost more than 2,200 officers since 2010 – although a Government recruitment drive is under way to bolster the thin blue line.

It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to break up 2,000 County Lines drugs gangs in a £300 million drive to tackle illegal narcotics.

Labour PCC Simon Foster said: "A decade of reckless Government cuts to policing has meant that West Midlands Police has lost over 2,200 officers since 2010. Those cuts have allowed drug gangs in our region to flourish and have contributed to the rise in gang related violence.

"That is why I am committed to rebuilding community policing by putting 450 extra police officers out on the streets, where they are needed to help prevent, disrupt and tackle crime.

"However, we cannot simply arrest our way out of the problem of drugs. I’m really concerned about the vulnerable young people who are drawn into these gangs and put in danger by cowardly drug dealers, who profit from their criminal exploitation.

"We have people in place to help and support young people who are being forced to courier and sell drugs for violent offenders; something known as county lines.

"We also need to be looking at tackling the root causes of substance misuse and help those with chronic addiction to drugs to get into treatment, so that we can disrupt the demand for drugs, break the cycle of crime and enable people to re-build their lives."

The Government is a set to introduce a string of measures in its 10-year strategy in order to crackdown on the issue alongside investment in order to end the cycle of addiction and repeat offending.

The Home Office said there are 300,000 heroin and crack addicts in England who are responsible for nearly half of acquisitive crime, including burglary and robbery, while drugs drive nearly half of all homicides.

Among the measures is an expansion of drug testing on arrest, with police encouraged to direct individuals who test positive towards treatment or other relevant interventions. This could include attendance at drug awareness courses with criminal sanctions for those who continue to use.

Mr Johnson, in a statement ahead of the strategy launch, said: "Drugs are a scourge on our society, fuelling violence on our streets which communities across the country are forced to endure.

"That's why, to cut crime and truly level up across the country, we must step up efforts to wipe out the vile county lines gangs who are blighting our neighbourhoods, exploiting children and ruining lives.

"Backed by record investment, the strategy we're setting out today will attack supply and break the county lines model which sees criminals profit from people's misery. Those who break the law will have nowhere to hide."

Home Secretary Priti Patel added police would target the "kingpins" behind the supply lines, making the streets safe for innocent citizens.

"It is clear that the drugs trade is still driving so much crime - we must do more to prevent these ruthless gangs ruining lives, tearing apart communities and exploiting young people," she said.

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