Top York police officers have discussed the use of drug consumption rooms as a way of tackling the problems associated with drug addiction in the city.
Superintendent Mark Khan, the police commander for York and Selby, said he was personally in favour of a public health approach when it came to problems such as substance abuse.
Consumption rooms are typically sheltered spaces where drug users are supervised by medics, given clean equipment and able to access services such as housing and social work.
Supt Khan was responding to a question from councillor Michael Pavlovic at a meeting of the housing and community safety policy and scrutiny committee.
Supt Khan told councillors that North Yorkshire Police – along with police forces across the UK – was moving towards a public health approach to policing, with a greater focus on early intervention.
He said that tacking issues such as street drinking required teamwork with health professionals so “we can help these vulnerable individuals.”
Committee vice-chair Coun Pavlovic asked him: “Will we be looking at – not decriminalising – but using diversionary policies for low level possession (of drugs) for example?”
Supt Khan said: “I was talking privately – and I’ll share this with you – with the Chief Inspector at York and we were talking about issues around (homeless accommodation charity) the Arc Light and we were sort of discussing the idea of a safe place for heroin addicts to go and inject.”
The area around Clarence Street, Union Terrace and Haxby Road has been identified as a hotspot for alcohol and drug-related anti-social behaviour.
Supt Khan acknowledged that such policies relied on political will, but he added: “From a policing perspective – personally, if you were to ask me – yes, we should be looking at dealing with a lot of problems from a health approach.”
Drug deaths have been rising across York and North Yorkshire over the past ten years and York has a high level of drug deaths per capita, due to the relative older age of its heroin-using population.
Safe consumption rooms, emblematic of the idea of a public health approach to drug deaths, remain politically controversial despite widespread support among health professionals.
The Scottish government is supportive of such an approach to tackle its drug deaths crisis, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he is “instinctively” opposed to drug consumption rooms.
And Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner Steve Turner faced criticism last year when he ended funding from his office for a trailblazing, Home Office-licensed heroin addiction treatment scheme.
Supt Khan said public health approaches relied on agencies working together to ensure new policies could survive in spite of politics.