LONDON, March 21 (Reuters) - People in South London have warmly welcomed a
pilot police policy to go easy on soft drugs but turn up the heat on more
serious drug abuse, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said on
Thursday.

"Eighty three percent of residents in Lambeth supported the scheme," he said
presenting the results of a police survey into public attitudes to the scheme
in the south London borough under which cannabis users are cautioned rather
than arrested.

The Lambeth scheme was pioneered last year by Commander Brian Paddick,
Britain's highest ranking openly gay officer, who was removed from his job
this week after a former lover said they had often smoked cannabis together
at their London flat.

Paddick, who denied the allegations, has been dubbed "Commander Crackpot" by
the tabloid media.

Stevens said a separate review had shown that the scheme in Lambeth -- a
hotbed of drug-related gang violence -- had also achieved its objective of
freeing up police time to target the more destructive drugs such as heroin
and crack cocaine.

"Officers time saved...can be put into more crime fighting use -- that is
clear," said Stevens.

The success of the policy has put pressure on the government to extend the
scheme nationally and downgrade cannabis from Class B to Class C -- the
lowest risk grouping of controlled drugs including anabolic steroids and
growth hormones.

During the six month evaluation, cannabis possession offences were 35 percent
up on the previous year, in line with the trend throughout London.

But by issuing warnings rather than arrests, officers freed up 1,350 hours
that would otherwise have been used on interviews and paperwork.

Stevens said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Michael Fuller had been tasked
with analysing the findings to see whether the scheme would work in the rest
of London.

Fuller stressed that as well as cautioning people caught with cannabis,
officers were also confiscating the drugs. "It is not as if they just walk
off with those drugs in their pockets."

09:24 03-21-02


By Pete Harrison