Statement: Police Drug Swabbing in Shoreditch

Statement from Zoë Garbett, Green Party candidate for Mayor of Hackney, on recent police drug swabbing in Shoreditch:

“The Metropolitan Police recently posted a video on Twitter in which officers appear to be harassing black and brown young people on the streets of Shoreditch at night by swabbing their hands for drugs. About 24 hours after posting the video, the Metropolitan Police followed up with a post explaining that the action was part of a ‘week of action’ supporting women’s safety

“This activity has been widely criticised as a PR stunt and not at all effective in addressing serious crime and violence or making women safer. On reviewing the drug swabbing activity, drug experts have recommended more effective, evidence-based alternatives such as drug safety testing.

“I agree with Assembly Member Caroline Russell who has publicly criticised this activity. Seeing police behaviour like this is especially concerning because the racist application of police stop-and-search is well documented. I’ve heard first-hand from young people at Hackney Account how traumatising police contact can be.

“2021 was the fifty-year anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), which sought to eliminate the use of illegal drugs through prohibitionist policies. Yet in 2020 there were 4,561 deaths related to drug poisoning registered in England and Wales – a 3.8% rise on the previous year.

“There is a large amount of research showing that criminalising people for their drug use is not effective in reducing drug use, but does leave people with criminal records, ruining their life chances. Working closely with drug reform organisations and people who have been affected by drug laws (such as Anyone’s Child), I’ve heard about the necessity for a new approach to drugs. In 2019 I co-led a review which resulted in the Green Party adopting the most progressive drugs policy of any major party, pledging to decriminalise and regulate all drugs as part of an inclusive, supportive and socially just society. 

“It is good to see the Mayor of London taking a harm reduction approach to drugs by proposing a diversion trial (currently planned for three boroughs in south London). However, there is already positive evidence from across the country about the effectiveness of diversion approaches, so we need to see this trail mainstreamed across London now. These schemes also cannot force people into treatment, as this is unethical.

“Hackney Council should be playing a more active role in scrutinsing the police and working on implementing alternative approaches to reduce drug death and drug harm.”

Additional comment from Caroline Russell, Green Party London Assembly Member:

“I was shocked to see this pantomime crackdown on drugs tweeted out by the Met. If they really wanted to reduce drug harm and make the night-time economy safer, they would be running drug checking and advice services, not dubiously stopping and swabbing people in the street. There are so many questions raised by this video about the legal basis of the stops, the risk of disproportionality in application and why this performative crackdown approach was taken rather than working with partners on drug harm reduction measures. I will be submitting these questions to the Mayor of London this month.”

Zoë Garbett and Caroline Russell are available for further media comment on this topic: [email protected]