We hit the streets of Cannock with Staffordshire Specials during police drugs crackdown
An operation to crack down on drugs in a town centre was carried out by police – and the Express & Star went along to see officers in action.
A team of Staffordshire Specials – voluntary police with the same powers – assembled at Cannock Police Station for a briefing.
Specials Chief Inspector Sam Rollinson explained we would be carrying out drug swabs on customer’s hands at a number of pubs in the town, where there had been incidents in the past, to ‘reduce harm to communities as a result of illicit drugs’.
The team were assisted by a hand-held ION Track Machine, worth thousands of pounds, which can detect small traces of substances such as cocaine, heroin, cannabis and amphetamines. Upon arrival at venue number one it was not long before the first positive swabs came in. Expressions on the faces of brazen punters who strolled up to the machine smiling and laughing soon turned sour when it blinked red indicating traces of drugs.
Within minutes of the operation on Friday night, two people were led outside the pub where a more thorough pat-down search was carried out to see if they had any quantities of drugs on them.
Nothing was found, but it was enough to concern one pub-goer who watched as an apprentice from his workplace tested positive. He said: “If he can’t pass a drugs test here, he won’t pass one on Monday morning. You try giving some people chances but they can’t help but let themselves down.”
While a female customer was ‘concerned’ at the mere presence of police at the popular nightspot ‘because her children were there’, but officers explained the venue’s bosses had signed up to an agreement giving consent to police spot checks.
There were more positive tests but no further action was taken.
Mr Rollinson said: “A positive test doesn’t necessarily mean a person has been taking or even dealing drugs. It just means they have come in to contact with them recently. But that could mean picking up traces from a note or a door handle. But a positive test, plus other factors such as if they start acting anxiously, gives us grounds to request a search.”
Before long it was off to the second pub where the initial warm welcome quickly turned hostile.
One man – a former police officer himself according to his friends – refused a request to be swabbed and then reacted angrily when he was asked to leave by the specials on behalf of the bar manager.
A fiery confrontation ensued as the punter, clearly fuelled by a pint or two, became incensed at the situation claimed he had ‘not committed an offence’. A 25-minute row ended with him, his wife and friends, walking away into the night claiming the police should be ‘catching real criminals’.
It was more of the same for the rest of the night. No-one was arrested but plenty of people got the message.
Mr Rollinson said: “It was all about preventing harm through early intervention, stepping in and speaking to people at an early point in the night to prevent things which can escalate into a large scale public order situation at the end of night, especially with something like cocaine which can give people a sense of invincibility and a desire to fight with others.”
He said this sort operation would take place once every three months and also underlined the importance of carrying out such work with the Special Constabulary.
Mr Rollinson added: “The demand for response officers is completely unknown.
“You never know if there is going to be an RTC (Road traffic collision) or a domestic incident and it is not ideal to do something like this with regular officers who will then get pulled off on to a 999 call.
“The benefit of Specials is that they are generally available on the weekend so you don’t have to impinge on the already limited resources of regular officers.”
“If we didn’t have Specials to do that then realistically it would not be done.
“This is not policing on the cheap. With an operation like this we can supervise it, run it ourselves and it can be carried out very effectively.”
Visit www.staffordshire.police.uk/specials for more information on the specials.