Gardaí need ‘balance’ to drug centre

Australian former top cop urges careful planning of injection centre.

Gardaí need to develop a “balanced” and “consistent” approach to policing the planned supervised drug injecting centre, a former top Australian police commander has said.

Pat Paroz said it was “critical” that Garda management was clear about the law regarding such centres and develop a document on policies and procedures in implementing it on the ground.

In a major shift in policy, Ireland is set to have its first medically supervised injecting centre this year.

Mr Paroz, former Commander of Drug and Alcohol Co-ordination for the New South Wales Police Force, was speaking at a drugs conference in Dublin, attended by international experts and drugs strategy minister Catherine Byrne.

Mr Paroz said the attitude of police before an injecting centre was established in Sydney in 2001 was simple.

“The traditional approach, probably the same as here, was that drug use was something police were opposed to and that our job was to try and stop it and do that by arresting people,” he said.

Research has shown that accidental deaths from heroin and other opiates in Australia rose from 307 in 1989 to 1,116 in 1999.

Evaluations on the Sydney MSIC in 2011 found that 4,400 drug overdoses had been successfully managed by the centre, without a fatality.

Mr Paroz said the aim of the centre was to reduce the harms from unsupervised injecting and improve the quality of local areas, affected by public injecting and dirty needles.

“All of those things have happened and that’s positive,” he said. “There’s also been no increase in violent thefts and it is not attracting more users into the area, which was a concern, including among police. That has not happened.”

Mr Paroz has held a number of meetings with Assistant Commissioner for Dublin Jack Nolan, who he said was very interested to hear how the Sydney centre was being policed.

“He wants to make sure that it operates the best that it can,” said Mr Paroz.

He had words of advice for the assistant commissioner and other gardaí.

“It is critical they know the wording of the legislation, the objectives of the legislation, and that they know the part the police play,” he said.

“The law needs to be clear, the clearer the better, but even still there is always room for interpretation. That’s where the police need to develop their own plan.

“It’s important to have a consistent response to issues in and around the centre. It should not be the case that the centre is somewhere we couldn’t or wouldn’t go — and, on the other hand, not a place we were targeting. It’s very much a balancing act.”

Mr Paroz said a close relationship with the centre’s staff was very important.

He said police had to be conscious of public expectations about such facilities.

“We don’t want to be seen as avoiding the centre or condoning any inappropriate behaviour outside the centre,” he said

Mr Paroz added that if there was dealing or antisocial behaviour going on outside the premises, it was policed as normal.

He said if a user was walking to the centre and not doing anything that warranted police intervention he or she would be left do so, without conducting a stop and search to see if he was in possession of drugs.

Mr Paroz said all new police, and police transferred to Sydney, were informed of the centre as part of their induction and were taken on a tour of the facility.

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