Drug squad cuts crazy, says officer

By Rochelle Long

The dissolution of Northland's police drug squad after an increase in drug offences has been labelled "crazy" by some frontline officers.
A police officer, who did not want to be named, says a team of 16 staff has now been slashed to six.
Within that team was a four-person specialist drug squad _ however that squad has been disbanded.
The team had also included staff who had been working on organised crime, violent crime and drugs, plus an analyst and typist.
The moves have been made in a Northland police restructure labelled "Building the Future".
The changes have been made to "better reflect" the police organisational structure and support the focus on intelligence-led policing and problem-oriented policing.
However, reducing drugs and organised crime squads and shifting the emphasis to reducing "volume" crime - car thefts, burglaries and lowering the road toll - is merely "cutting the tail off the snake and leaving the head," the officer believes.
"It's crazy. It's really frustrating. A lot of that crime is to support drug habits," he said.
"In a couple of years it's going to be a huge problem."
Under the restructure, Northland's four-strong dedicated drug squad has been amalgamated with team policing and Crime Control Unit staff to form two "tactical groups".
These new groups will respond to offences that most concern the general public, such as burglary, vehicle crime and alcohol and street disorder.
However, the officer fears that drug crime is far less likely to be reported by the general public than property crime.
The decision to cut the drug squad comes after the 2003/2004 Northland District recorded crime statistics showed cannabis crimes had increased from 1177 in the 2002/2003 year, to 1246.
While there was no coding for methamphetamine offences in previous statistics, there were 136 crimes relating to the drug in the last year.
"It fudges the statistics.

(Busting a meth lab) costs a lot of money and a lot of time and it also creates a stat. If we don't go and bust that meth lab we don't create a statistic and we don't drain resources," the officer said.
"They would prefer to have these guys working on theft ex-cars because we can solve them easily, it looks good, and it goes away."
Drug crime will now most likely fall to a Crime Services group which has itself been slashed.
Formerly made up 10 police officers - six law enforcement team members based in Whangarei and four in Kaitaia - the group has been reduced to six staff targeting organised crime for the whole Northland district.
"They will basically probably just be responsible for the drug eradication programme which is the spraying of cannabis," the officer said.
"They will probably do what they can - which is going to be bugger all."

- Northern Advocate

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