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Operation Reduction: How the police of Brighton are trying to kill off addiction in the city

Graham Bartlett

Brighton is an impressively cosmopolitan city, with 26,000 students and up to 8 million visitors a year. There are great pubs, restaurants and clubs right on your doorstep, as well as the local drug dealer. Brighton has recently been named as the ‘Drug Death Capital of the UK’ with up to 50 drug-related deaths per year, including a student on the University of Sussex campus only a few years back.

To discuss the current situation in Brighton, the University was lucky enough to have both Chief Superintendent Graham Barlett (who recently appeared on Russell Brand’s BBC documentary) and DCI Jez Graves. They gave a talk about what policies they’ve employed to tackle the prominent drug scene and addiction problems in Brighton.Their clear message from the start is that they firmly believe drug dealers should be imprisoned, and drug users given treatment: “we have so far arrested 600 [dealers] – of which the majority have been sent to prison”.

Barlett stated that he has “been a part of ‘Operation Reduction’ [Brighton’s drug reducing policy] since it was first employed back in 2005, which has to date seen 450 drug users put in treatment, of which the vast majority are successfully on the road to recovery, or are fully recovered”. This is great news for Brighton, especially since 70% of petty crime committed, e.g. burglary, shop lifting and theft, is the result of an addict funding their addiction.

So ‘Operation Reduction’ has had many positive effects on the community, however it still begs the question: why does Brighton hold the illustrious title of ‘the Drug Death Capital of the UK’? The problem, Jez Graves informs us, is that “drug dealing is a lucrative business and many drug dealers take on this position to support their own addiction. In addition we have seen an increase in the number of drug dealers migrating from other towns to the South coast”.

“You arrest 50 drug dealers, and next week there are another 50 in their place” Mr. Graves says wearily.

He also explains that the people who buy the drugs “don’t think of the impact their usage has on those who are enslaved abroad to grow it” and also the organised crime involved in transporting drugs into the UK.

From a student’s perspective, it seems the most pressing issue is the vulnerability of young people to the enticing market of drugs, especially the easy access a young person has to attaining anything from cannabis to cocaine.

One of Jez Graves’s biggest worries is the “low levels of purity we’ve found in drugs confiscated from the public”. He also explains that there are an increasing number of addictive chemicals put into drugs which make them even more harmful, although data should be observed before accepting this claim.  Common drugs found in student groups included: ketamine, MDMA, cocaine, cannabis and various legal highs.

So what is the future for Brighton? Recently, and especially since Caroline Lucas became MP for Brighton, there have been many discussions about Brighton and Hove following Portugal’s de-criminalisation strategy, a scheme that abolishes criminal penalties for the possession of drugs. “We could discuss this for hours” says Graham Barlett, “however my viewpoint is, and will continue to be, that the people who sell and manufacture drugs should be jailed, but the people who use them need treatment”.

The ‘Operation Reduction’ policy has so far benefitted Brighton and Hove, and Graham Barlett says the project will continue to be deployed, especially as “on a purely economic scale, every £1 of the project saves £3 of public money by reducing drug related crime”.

After a few hours in a cramped room at the top of Falmer House, it is clear that both Jez Graves and Graham Barlett are passionate and determined to help drug users and prosecute drug dealers.

Bartlett ends the talk on a positive note, encouraging us to get involved: “just because you’re students, don’t think you can’t influence change in this community. You are the next generation and are also the most intelligent. Your ideas and opinions are valued”.

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