Compulsory Drug Tests For Suspects At Police Stations

Portable drug-testing kits, which will check whether suspects were under the influence of illegal substances when they broke the law, are to be trialed at three Scottish police stations.

The pilot project, which begins on 12 June, will see suspected shoplifters, house-breakers and fraudsters tested for drugs as a matter of course.

The aim is to encourage more drug users into treatment services to address their problems and drug-related offending. If the two-year pilot project is successful, then it might be introduced nationwide.

Graeme Pearson, speaking on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said: “We welcome the opportunity that this project offers.

“The experience in England and Wales, where you have drug testing already, is that it gives the opportunity for people to be diverted into treatment much earlier and success rates are much higher.”

The test takes the form of a saliva swab and the result can be obtained very quickly.

Mr Pearson, the director-general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, went on: “It is a real opportunity for someone caught on drugs to realise what the issue is, to recognise how to deal with it and to take the opportunity for treatment.”

Anyone who refuses the test or assessment will be liable to a criminal charge.

Professor Neil McKeganey, of the Centre for Drugs Misuse Research, agreed with the mandatory nature of the drug testing.

He said: “If you are going to mount a scheme of this kind, it must be compulsory. I think it is absolutely right that the Scottish Executive gets a good measure of a proportion of drug-related crime and targets treatment accordingly.

“Some years ago, I was involved in a project in Glasgow and Fife and we found that 70 per cent of people lifted by the police had used illegal drugs.

“However, only a tiny proportion of them had been in touch with drugs-treatment services.

“We should become accustomed to routine drug testing rather than testing at the discretion of senior police officers. Only then would we truly get a sense of the scale of drug-use offending.”

Hugh Little, deputy-general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, which represents the majority of officers in Scotland, said: “We would support this pilot scheme and we look forward to its evaluation.”

The background to the pilot projects is that about a third of all recorded crime in Scotland is related to drugs.

Further, more than three-quarters of those given a custodial sentence by the courts show signs of drug misuse and drug-related offending.

The powers for mandatory drug testing are contained within the Police, Public Order and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2006.

Heroin, methadone, cocaine, Ecstasy, LSD, amphetamines (if prepared for injection) and magic mushrooms prepared for illegal use, are all Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The pilot schemes will run in three police stations: Queen Street, Aberdeen; St Leonard’s in Edinburgh; and London Road in Glasgow. The Scottish Executive previously set aside £1 million to increase the capacity of the treatment services in the pilot areas.

A further £600,000 has been earmarked for the employment of assessors and further funding will be provided to the police in the pilot areas to meet the requirements of supporting the projects.

During consultation, the Scottish Drugs Forum voiced its opposition to proposals for mandatory drug testing of anyone aged 16 and over arrested for Class A drugs or drugs-related “trigger” offences.

It argued that testing those arrested would not deliver an effective return on investment and that crime could be cut by developing high-quality treatment services instead.

Police in the pilot projects will use portable drug-testing machines produced by the Oxfordshire-based company Cozart.

The company already supplies its Rapiscan equipment to 173 police stations in England and Wales under a similar scheme introduced last year.

Rapiscan is a portable device that can be used to check for the presence of a number of substances in bodily fluids.

The system is used to test nearly 20,000 people arrested in England and Wales each month. Cozart develops and manufactures drug-testing equipment and sells kits to police as well as employers who operate drug-testing policies.