Drug arrests fall as police in Bristol focus on shoplifting and scooters

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The region is falling behind the national average in tackling drug trafficking

Arrests for drug crimes have plummeted as Avon and Somerset Police focuses on issues such as burglary, shoplifting and electric scooters instead.

The region is falling behind the national average in tackling drug trafficking as demand for reactive policing shoots up.

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Avon and Somerset Police is facing increasing demand through emergency calls and this means there are fewer officers available for proactive policing, such as disrupting organised crime groups and drug trafficking. The force is also moving more into “non-crime areas”.

Chief constable Sarah Crew said her force - which covers Bristol, Bath, Somerset and South Gloucestershire - “looks out of kilter” with other areas across the country. She was pressed for answers during a performance and accountability board on November 14.

Mark Shelford, the police and crime commissioner, said: “There are two measures both going in the wrong direction: recorded crime and disruptions. This suggests that the actions you’ve been taking to improve are either not working, or not working consistently.”

Since May last year, a specialist team at Avon and Somerset Police charged 39 offenders, who have received nearly 100 years in custody between them for drugs and firearms offences, while 24 offenders are still awaiting sentencing.  The force seized drugs with a total street value of over £2.5 million. Over the last 12 months officers also disrupted 50 county lines.

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Arrests for drug trafficking tend to “ebb and flow” according to the chief constable, as complex investigations take time to execute. But increasing pressures on other policing matters, including electric scooters, have left officers with less time to tackle drug gangs.

Ms Crew said: “Drug trafficking crimes tend to be uncovered through policing activity rather than a direct call for service, so drug trafficking crimes are a proxy for proactive policing - the policing that we do when we’ve met all our other demands for service. Our reactive demands, the 999 calls, the other 101 calls for service, the investigation of reported crime.

“For drug trafficking crimes, we do look out of kilter with the national picture. The time available for proactive policing has been eroded by an increase in reactive demands - whether that’s rising 999 calls, increases in the complexity of crime and demand, or policing moving into other areas of non-crime.

“Our Operation Remedy team has needed to expand to tackle a wider array of very understandable priorities such as burglary and retail theft. At the moment we’re working on the anti-social and criminal use of electric scooters for instance. So the capability to be proactive on drugs has shrunk."

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