By Ashley Young-
The issue of police officers returning seized drugs to users in exchange for information about drug dealers raises important questions regarding law enforcement strategies, ethics, and the overall effectiveness of drug control efforts.
The controversial practice is not common in the force, but does occur according to inside sources. Some officers privately take the view it is better to catch the big fish in the trade by striking deals with addicts at the lower level.
A sprinkling of officers argue that police discretion on when to return drugs to addicts is an understandable tactic for gathering intelligence and combating drug trafficking, while the vast majority reject its acceptability, highlighting concerns about promoting drug use and the potential for corruption within law enforcement agencies.
One argument in favour of the practice is that it can provide law enforcement with valuable intelligence on drug dealers and their networks. By establishing relationships with drug users, police officers may gain access to insider information, aiding in the identification, tracking, and eventual arrest of high-level drug traffickers. Supporters argue that this approach can lead to dismantling larger drug operations and disrupting the supply chain, ultimately reducing drug-related crimes.
Harm Reduction and Rehabilitation
Advocates of the practise of police discretion in returning drugs to users in exchange for the greater gain of catching drug dealers claim that returning seized drugs to users can be seen as a harm reduction strategy. Rather than simply punishing drug users, this approach acknowledges addiction as a complex issue and offers an opportunity for intervention. By engaging with users, officers can potentially connect them with treatment programs, rehabilitation services, or other support systems, aiming to address the root causes of addiction and help individuals break the cycle of drug abuse.
Solicitor, Fabian Nworah told The Eye Of Media.Com: ”the practice raises significant ethical concerns. Returning seized drugs to users blurs the line between law enforcement and drug facilitation, potentially sending mixed messages about the illegal nature of drug use. Critics argue that such actions may normalize drug consumption, creating a perception of impunity among users and inadvertently increasing demand. This raises questions about the long-term impact on public health, community safety, and the overall fight against drug abuse.
‘From a legal perspective, returning seized drugs to users for any reason can be problematic. It challenges the principles of law enforcement and criminal justice systems by essentially condoning illegal activities under specific circumstances. This practice may undermine public trust in the justice system, as citizens expect law enforcement officers to uphold the law rather than engage in activities that appear to condone illegal behaviour’.
One of the most significant concerns associated with this practice is the potential for corruption within law enforcement agencies. Returning seized drugs creates an opportunity for officers to exploit their positions for personal gain. There is a risk that officers might collude with drug users or dealers, using the information they obtain to their advantage, such as extorting money, protecting certain dealers, or engaging in other forms of illicit activities. This could lead to a loss of public confidence and a deterioration of trust in law enforcement institutions.
Rather than resorting to the return of drugs, law enforcement agencies are expected to explore alternative methods for gathering intelligence and addressing drug-related issues. Strengthening community policing efforts, building trust through positive engagement, supporting outreach programs, and investing in prevention and treatment services are potential avenues that can yield positive outcomes without compromising ethical standards.