Overstretched squads hamper drugs battle: Cash shortages forcing police to ignore narcotics inquiries

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UNDERSTAFFED, overstretched and poorly trained police drug squads are hampering the battle against the narcotics trade, according to the Chief Inspector of Constabulary.

In his 1993 annual report, Trefor Morris, the chief inspector, warned that lack of finances was causing some forces to ignore drug investigations. He said the police were making record drug seizures and having to cope with an increasing number of armed criminals connected to narcotics dealing.

The report concluded: 'During 1993, Her Majesty's Inspectors noted that drug squads were sometimes understaffed, frequently overstretched and occasionally

undertrained. Members of drug squads are still all too frequently diverted to perform other duties in support of major investigations.'

Mr Morris, in his first report, ruled out the legalisation of cannabis and called for law enforcement combined with education to combat the problem. The number of occasions police officers were issued with firearms rose by almost one-quarter, to 5,570 during 1993.

Mr Morris noted: 'An increased tendency for criminals to carry and use firearms as a matter of routine, particularly in inner-city areas in association with organised drug dealing.'

But he spoke against the routine arming of police officers, which he feared could 'lead to an escalation in the use of firearms by criminals'. He also warned that the police could end up as 'a law enforcement body without public support' if too many tasks were hived off to private companies and other agencies under the Home Office review of the force's role.

Helping old ladies whose cats were stuck up trees, or motorists who had locked themselves out of their cars, helped to give Britain's police public support which was the envy of the world, he said.

Mr Morris told a news conference yesterday: 'There is a great concern in the police service that if you take away all these tasks and you are reduced to being just a law enforcement body, what you will see is a law enforcement body without public support.' Police wanted to continue to offer help.

He welcomed the Home Office reorganisation of police tasks. He said losing a job like escorting wide loads on motorways was probably uncontroversial. But even dull work like accepting lost property had its advocates because of the public support it brought.

His annual report also revealed that fewer women and people from ethnic minorities applied for jobs in the police force in a year in which 'unacceptable' levels of racist exchanges and sexual harassment were identified within the service. A study of 'equal opportunities' within the police published last year found a lack of commitment or even understanding of the issues in some forces.

Mr Morris said: 'The inspection uncovered unacceptable levels of prejudice, sexual harassment and racist exchanges, frequently unchecked by supervisory staff.'

Sophisticated security cameras which can pick up the smallest detail have been introduced in Sunderland in an attempt to combat crime.

The pounds 350,000 scheme, which has been mostly paid for by Sunderland City Council, includes cameras on the roofs of flats which can zoom in on individuals, vehicles or even ships at sea.