President's Weekly Round-up: 3 May 2016

NZPA - Greg O'Connor | Tue May 3rd, 2016

I am writing from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, where I travelled after attending the ICPRA (International Council of Police Representative Associations) conference next door in Spain.

ICPRA represents about 1.5 million police worldwide. I relinquished the chair role this year as it is dependent on my position as President of the New Zealand Police Association, which I will stand down from in October.

ICPRA is in good heart and building a research base so any member with a policing issue or query can access the database to see if it has occurred elsewhere and what remedial action has been taken.

The conference also heard from two researchers, one from Sweden and one from Canada, on police officer stress and workforce issues around the globe, and, surprise, surprise, it's administration and management issues that cause as much stress as the actual work. There are some very good programmes being developed that we will follow up.

Another subject covered was privatisation of policing.  Many governments are looking at ways to reduce the cost of policing by outsourcing jobs.  The Lincolnshire Police Force in England has outsourced all but frontline sworn jobs, including custody, administration, and the ownership and running of stations. Essentially, if it doesn't require a sworn power, it's gone.

What the research is showing is that it doesn't save much money, if any, and can actually be more expensive. The same research shows that privatisation and outsourcing are invariably imposed for political reasons, not because of a well thought-out economic rationale.

The final topic for discussion was drug reform. The conference coincided with a United Nation conference (UNGASS) on the failing war on drugs, and a call to look at alternative solutions. Not a lot of progress was made at the UN conference due to intransigence by the Russians, in particular, who still want to shoot their dealers.

The UN’s reluctance to look beyond current strategies was reflected at ICPRA.  The position the New Zealand Police Association has taken – that any policy change on consumption should also look at supply – was a step too far for them, despite the fact that many of their own countries and states are moving to change laws and policies, especially on cannabis.

The American state of Colorado, which I have discussed before, has legalised and regulated the industry. Spain has made personal possession and use of cannabis legal, but hasn't addressed supply, which remains illegal.

Portugal has decriminalised possession of less than 10 days’ supply of any drug, including heroin, meth and cannabis, and is being held up as an example of enlightened policy. That is why I am visiting Portugal, so our Association can fully understand a policy touted as one we should follow.

It’s not quite as it is purported by advocates, however, and the country’s particular circumstances need to be understood. Portugal was a strict dictatorship under Salazar until a revolution in the 1970s. Consequently, they missed the liberalisation of society in the 1960s and when the borders finally collapsed and the world arrived, so did drugs. With no knowledge or mechanisms to deal with them, heroin, in particular, became rampant.  Addiction was widespread the 80s, with accompanying high rates of Aids.

The problem was across every level of society, from the ruling elite to the working classes, so when authorities went looking for solutions, they didn't want to go down the path of criminalisation, as that would affect the ruler’ kids, so their approach is all about treatment.

Police still arrest for possession, and dealing is a criminal offence, but being caught with even small amounts of cannabis puts users into a regime administered by the Ministry of Health, not Justice. They fine people who don't comply, but instead of going to court, they appear before a so-called Dissuasion Commission, a panel made up of a doctor, social
worker and psychologist. They tailor the response to the individual, including compulsory education and treatment programmes.

More effort and investment is put into casual users rather than hard-core junkies, as they consider the latter know what's available when they decide they need it.

The stats appear to indicate it works and, compared with other European cities I have visited, there aren’t the usual junkies and obvious signs of drug use.

The important point is that the reason for Portugal’s drug problem was different than in other countries, where drug issues tend to arise in marginalised part of society, rather than the middle classes.

They still haven't addressed the supply side, though, and they believe that the South American countries being torn apart by drug cartels will force that to be tackled in the future. In fact, it was the Mexican Government and several other South American countries who demanded that the UNGASS conference be brought forward from 2019 to this year.

So, discussion on cannabis reform continues to gain momentum around the globe. When those in New Zealand with an agenda start quoting what's happening in other places, we can point out the true situation. I was introduced to the architect of the Portuguese policy, the director-general of the Intervention Ministry, Joao Goulao, through Portugal’s police association president, who also arranged for me to meet the drug squad officers. As a result, I’ve gained a good understanding of the regime in Portugal.

The Portuguese police conditions and pay are pretty basic, since the GFC hit them hard. There are 55,000 of them for a population of 10 million, and they are visible everywhere. Saying that, there are eight different police forces performing similar or overlapping roles, so efficiency is not quite the order of the day.  Spain also has a large number of forces, national, state and metropolitan, creating duplication and rivalry. Crime rates are high in both countries.

Back home, it’s great news that the PITT policy is going to be reviewed and extended. We have been resolute with Police the whole way that the current policy is dangerous and confusing. Our policy has always been that anyone likely to come into contact with the public outside a station should have access to the full range of tactical options. At first glance, that is where we should end up under the new policy.

It’s always a privilege to represent New Zealand at overseas forums, where we are well regarded, and I can assure you that although it’s not all beer and skittles at home in Enzed, I'm still glad my ancestors stayed on the boat all the way, because we do damned well in almost all comparisons.


Stay safe.

Greg O

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