Dear Simon Foster,
Your remit as West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner of course encompasses a broad spectrum of crime prevention, mitigation and policing, so it must be a challenging task to decide where to prioritise attention and resources. I appreciate that your Police and Crime Plan is particularly focused on prevention and a community-based approach to tackling the causes of violent crime.
You recognise in that plan that the drug market is at the root of other forms of crime, notably violent crime and theft. You have said that “by reducing the demand for drugs, we can reduce the crime it drives too.” Yet, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has reported that the coronavirus pandemic has fuelled a major increase in drug use worldwide, and the UK has been no exception.
I have lived in Walsall for a good proportion of my life, and over the last few years, my family and I have witnessed a notable increase in the visible evidence of drug dealing and use in our local area. This has actually not just been during the pandemic, but for a couple of years beforehand too. National statistics support this anecdotal observation in that seizures of illegal drugs by police and the border force have seen yearly increases from 2017 through to the end of last year, reversing a downward trend from 2012. The Crime Survey of England and Wales has also noted a recent increase in the number of people who report witnessing drug dealing on the streets.
The visible evidence of which I write almost always involves dealing from cars or group drug use in parked cars around my neighbourhood. I now see one or both of these things taking place on almost a daily basis. The drug use in cars is especially troubling, as these users are clearly then going to drive around under the influence of those drugs. The amount of speeding and reckless driving has also notably increased in recent years, so it wouldn’t be surprising for that to be another area of crime being exacerbated by drug crime.
Just last week, two men crashed a car in the middle of the night, directly opposite my house, through a wall and onto a grass verge. They fled on foot, and one of them was witnessed breaking into my garden in making his escape. I don’t know if drugs were involved, but it seems feasible, and an incident like that so close to home adds to the general impression that the level of crime on the street and on the roads is not getting any better around here.
Last year, I was alerted to loud crashes in the middle of the night, and saw a van driving repeatedly into someone’s dustbins down the street, then driving down the pavement. It then reversed erratically and parked on the pavement on the opposite site of the road, where it remained for a good fifteen minutes before speeding off. I had immediately phoned the police, fearing the driver could go on to cause harm, but they received the call with no sense of urgency and an officer didn’t turn up until half an hour later, by which time the van had long gone.
Given your keenness for involving local communities in achieving crime and policing objectives, I wonder if you would consider ways of improving community reporting of crime, and in particular the concerning cases of drug use in cars. A car registration number, assuming the vehicle isn’t stolen, is a quick route to identification. If we had, for example, a community reporting app in which a witness can enter a car reg, upload a photo and send a GPS tag, that information could be passed quickly and easily to police, who would then be able to attend the location, investigate, and potentially apprehend those involved. Evidence could also be accrued over time in order to identify dealers and thus hamper local supply.
Conversations I have had with neighbours and others locally have shown this is an issue that many in the area are concerned about, and I am sure that uptake of community reporting would be strong, especially if the police demonstrate that they are responding promptly and effectively to those reports. This, in turn, would help to improve public trust in the police and the working relationship between police and the communities they serve.
I look forward to your thoughts.