Crime figures vindicate embattled Met police commander

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The Independent Online

The controversial drugs policies of Brian Paddick, the pioneering police commander, have resulted in an increase in arrests for hard drugs and a fall in levels of street crime and burglary in his notorious London borough.

Metropolitan Police figures show drug arrests have risen by more than 65 per cent in a year in Lambeth after Commander Paddick decided not to arrest cannabis users so officers could pursue dealers in heroin and crack cocaine instead.

There were 159 class A drug arrests in Lambeth last month compared with 96 for both cannabis and class A drugs in the similar period last year.

During the period, levels of street crime have been cut by 35 per cent and burglaries have fallen by more than 8 per cent in one of Britain's most notorious high-crime areas. The findings show the scheme has not transformed the district into a haven of drug dealing, as critics have claimed.

Commander Paddick, Britain's most high-ranking openly gay officer, began a new administrative role yesterday after being moved by Scotland Yard because of an interview in a Sunday newspaper by the officer's former gay lover.

James Renolleau, a former cashier at Westminster Abbey, claimed Commander Paddick had smoked cannabis "hundreds of times" and allowed a stash of the drug to be kept in his home. Commander Paddick has denied the allegations and claimed he is a target of homophobic elements within the police and the press.

The officer was earlier criticised for expressing sympathy with anarchist philosophy on an internet website.

But latest crime figures for Lambeth show Commander Paddick can claim success for his unorthodox drugs scheme, which is being evaluated by Scotland Yard.

Arrests for class A drugs rose from 90 last December to 107 in January and 159 last month. Street robberies, which were running at more than 30 a day in the borough in the aftermath of the 11 September bombings, when many Lambeth officers were redeployed to central London, have been cut to 17 a day. The corresponding figure for last year is 23 a day.

Burglaries, many of which are drug-related, have been cut by more than 8 per cent to 363 last month from 397 in February last year. Since the introduction of the no-arrest cannabis policy last summer, burglaries have dropped by 26 per cent and street crime has fallen by 6 per cent.

Sources say up to 2,500 police man-hours have been saved by removing the bureaucratic requirements on officers making arrests for cannabis. Yesterday Lee Jasper, chairman of the Lambeth Community Police Consultative Group, said the crime figures vindicated Commander Paddick's approach to the areas crime problems.

He said: "He's a tremendously effective officer. The number of crack dealers that have been arrested has gone right up and he has managed to drive down the number of street robberies."

Mr Jasper, who advises Ken Livingstone, London's Mayor, on policing, said that a demonstration was being called at Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton next Tuesday to demand the re-instatement of the police chief, who faces an inquiry by an outside force under the supervision of the Police Complaints Authority.

The Scotland Yard evaluation of the pilot scheme is expected by Easter and will aid David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, in deciding whether to downgrade cannabis to a class C drug, in effect making possession a non-arrestable offence in England and Wales.