Concerns over ‘significant rise’ in drug dealing complaints

Islington’s policy and performance scrutiny committee. Photograph: Ed Sheridan

A “significant rise” in residents’ complaints about drug dealing in Islington has sparked concern among councillors.

Metropolitan Police borough commander Nick Davies listened as community representatives shared their experiences of a perceived rise in open drug use on their streets.

Positive news was also shared of a sustained reduction in stabbing injuries to young people under 25, down 10.7 per cent since last year.

Serious youth violence also saw a drop of 6.9 per cent.

Cllr Clare Jeapes (Lab, Canonbury), said: “I’m concerned about the rise in open drug dealing and people openly using drugs. Many people have been more outrageous, and not caring about who’s watching them.

“I walked through my local park and there was someone sitting there smoking a crack pipe out in the open. There was a group of parents nearby who had really young children, and they were going to walk within inches of this person.

“I was really annoyed, but didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t going to approach the person, because they might have gotten violent. I did report it, but I am concerned that there appears to be more drug activity going on.”

Whilst drug offences have seen a seven per cent drop on last year, with 519 reported crimes recorded for 2017-18, police cited an “increase in prevalence and complaints re drug dealing and concern re a possible escalation in gang tensions/violence” as first on their list of challenges around youth crime.

Crimes involving knives saw a 14 per cent increase this year, but Cllr Andy Hull (Lab, Highbury West), executive member for finance, performance and community safety, highlighted the fall in stabbing injuries to young people at the 1 November meeting of the policy and performance scrutiny committee.

Cllr Hull said: “There’s no grounds for complacency when it comes to young people stabbing one another.

“Every young person stabbed is one person too many. There was a 14-year-old stabbed on Caledonian Road last night, so one can never be complacent.

“But I do think getting young people stabbings down by 11 per cent compared to the previous year is a positive development.”

Cllr Nick Wayne (Lab, Canonbury), questioned Cmdr Davies as to whether a prioritisation of resources by local police on knife crime was responsible for the rise in reports of drug dealing.

The Metropolitan Police saw a 3.6 per cent drop in officer numbers between March 2017 and March 2018, with a loss of 1,127 full-time equivalent officers across the city.

According to figures highlighted by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in June, there were 3.3 officers per 1,000 Londoners in 2016/17, down from 4.1 officers in 2010.

Cmdr Davies said: “I’m not denying that we’ve got significant drug dealing taking place. Have we got the ability to deal with some of that? Yes, we have. Camden & Islington just arrested 39 drug dealers in Camden Market.

“Test purchase jobs put officers in significant danger, they cost a lot of money, and we’re only doing it where we’ve seen extreme violence. We’ve lost a lot of officers from where we were as we moved into this year. In January, we lost 113 who just weren’t there. We’re probably 60 to 70 under at the moment.

“We’ve set clear priorities around violent crime, we’ve set clear priorities around moped crime, and that’s what we’re dealing with. If we prioritise drugs, we’ll stop prioritising something else. It’s as simple as that. If that’s the will of the people, then fine, but we’ll stop doing something else.”

Moped crime, of which Islington used to be considered the “global capital” according to community safety executive member Cllr Andy Hull (Lab, Highbury West), has seen a significant fall in the borough in recent years.

In September 2018, 113 snatch theft offences were on record, the lowest number of monthly offences since August 2014, with a 50 per cent reduction in the last 12 months compared to the same period in the previous year.

Islington saw a seven per cent reduction in total crime between October 2017 and September 2018 – the Met saw a two per cent increase across the same period.

Cllr Hull added: “I’ve seen an increase in my postbag when it comes to drug-related offending. There are people dealing and using on our street corners much more than before.

“It’s a phenomenon that one can’t deny when you look at the incoming casework we’re all getting.

“You can trace it back to increased supply, I’m told, with people flooding the UK with new forms of crack, but whatever the reasons, it’s a worry to our residents, and one I think the police are struggling to contend with, as they have limited resources and can’t prioritise everything.”